Plaques are Back!

Hello Friends,

The capital campaign to renovate our historic building has been a monumental effort for our community, board, and staff over the last two years. We’ve hit several major milestones over the last few months, and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel (and renovation project!). Most recently we had great success with our Take the Stage crowdfunding campaign where nearly 450 of you gave almost $245,000 and helped unlock a $200,000 challenge match from an anonymous donor.

This groundswell of community investment has inspired another donor to help propel us towards the finish line of this campaign. Longtime donor and friend of Town Hall Chuck Nordhoff has stepped forward with additional matching dollars for donors who want to add their names to the Great Hall stage. He will match $50,000 for named plaque gifts made from now until April 15!

Because of this incredible generosity, we’re extending the opportunity to have your name inscribed on the Great Hall stage. So if you missed your chance to Take the Stage, you can still support the renovation, inscribe a plaque, and become a permanent part of a Seattle landmark! Visit to learn more.

Town Hall Seattle has a collective voice; this community of speakers and artists and audiences belongs to all of us. It has always been true, and never more so than right now, as so many of you have stepped up to secure the future of the building and the organization. Thank you for being a part of Town Hall–and thank you for your support as we finish our long journey home!

With gratitude,

Wier Harman
Executive Director

PS – With your help, we’ve already come so far and have just $2.5 million left to raise to complete our historic renovation. Visit to inscribe your plaque today!

An Interview with Holocaust Survivor Irene Butter

Irene Butter is one of the few Holocaust survivors still writing about her experiences. On April 16, 2019 she joins us for a Town Hall conversation about taking action and refusing to be a bystander. You can get tickets to the event here. To give us a preview of her story and her message of hope, she spoke with Town Hall’s Copywriter Alexander Eby.

AE: Can you tell me about what your life was like before the Nazis came to power? Before the camps?

IB: Well, I did have a wonderful early childhood. I lived with my loving parents and my brother who was two years older than I, and I had the great fortune of living with my grandparents in the same house. We were given all kinds of treats and taken on trips—it was truly a wonderful family. But then Hitler came to power and the persecution of the Jews began.

My grandfather owned a bank and my father was his partner, and the bank was taken away from him because Jews could no longer own banks. This left my father unemployed, so he left for Amsterdam to try to find a job. My mother and brother and I followed him a few months later, but my grandparents could not come with us. That was the first separation we experienced. We were in Amsterdam for two years before the Nazis invaded. When the Nazis took over Holland and then everything began to escalate, life for the Jews became very uncertain. There were many restrictions, and then of course the deportation. I think I had six wonderful years of childhood in Berlin and Amsterdam before the Nazis invaded. And from then on times were very difficult.

AE: What were your experiences like in the camps? How did you cope with day-to-day life there?

IB: The first camp we were in was Westerbork, a German concentration camp in Holland. Most people did not stay there long, and things were difficult. We lived in a crowded barracks. The adults were made to work, and for the children there were no schools or libraries, no toys or books. It was complete boredom. Food was limited, and in retrospect it was not all that bad—but only because things got a lot worse.

The worst part of life in Westerbork was every Saturday, when a cattle car train would arrive. The railroad track ran right down the middle of the camp, so wherever you went you had to see it, and it stood there Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday. And then on Monday the barrack leaders turned on all the lights to read the names of the people who were made to leave. Most of those trains went to Auschwitz. Some of us were made to clean the wagons of the trains, and we had a glimpse into what was happening Auschwitz. They found little notes that described the gas ovens, and we learned that most people were gassed upon arrival. It was heartbreaking every week to have to say goodbye to friends or relatives.

Now in our case, my father met a friend in Amsterdam who had just received Ecuadorian passports from a man in Sweden. My father sent a letter to have some of these made for us, but we were deported from our home in Amsterdam before they arrived. The German government had issued an exchange policy by which they kept Jews who had either a foreign nationality or who had passports to one of the allied countries. They kept those Jews because Hitler wanted to exchange them for German citizens who had been caught in other countries when the war started, like a prisoner exchange. After four to six months in Westerbork, a package containing our Ecuadorian passports arrived, and we were no longer at risk of being deported to Auschwitz.

Instead we were sent to a camp called Bergen Belsen, which was referred to as an exchange camp, where Jews were held until the exchanges could take place. We spent an entire year in Bergen Belsen, and conditions were much worse. The adults were subjected to long days of slave labor, six and a half days of work. And we were all made to stand in a big square once a day to be counted for roll call, sometimes for hours at a time. Food rations were minimal, not enough for anyone to survive. Hygiene was deplorable and there were many deaths from disease epidemics and malnutrition. And there was punishment. There was brutality. You had to learn to be able to cope with death, to tolerate death. There were dead people all around you. Every morning I woke up surrounded by dead bodies. It was a truly fearful situation. Everything was uncertain.

AE: What are your thoughts about the situation at the American border, specifically the separation of children from their families?

IB: Heartbreaking. That’s all I can say—I have nightmares about it because I myself was separated from my family. When we were finally included in one of the exchanges, we were put on a train from Bergen Belsen to Switzerland. The second night on the train, my father died from malnourishment and from being badly beaten, and my mother was also very sick. When we arrived in Switzerland my mother and brother were hospitalized, but I was not allowed to stay with them. Switzerland was not accepting any more refugees, so I was sent to a refugee camp in Northern Africa. I was separated from my family not only by cities, not only by country, but by continent.

The war had not yet ended, and for several months I didn’t even know if my mother and brother were still alive. When I finally learned that they were recovering, still nothing was done to reunite me with my mother and brother until we came to the United States. We were separated for 18 months, and I have never forgotten the trauma that comes from being separated from your family. It’s almost unbelievable that this is happening today, and I am very proud of the people who are working to interfere with this process of family separation.

AE: What would you recommend for people who want to take action and avoid being bystanders at a time like this?

IB: It is such an important message for young people, and I’ve been talking in schools for more than 35 years about never being a bystander. I think we all have choices to make, and if you have certain values you need to act on them. When you see injustice and evil you need to interfere in any way you can. Seek help for people who are being injured, line up support, and refuse to be enemies. There is a lot of hatred being promoted at target groups these days, and it’s so destructive. We’re told that people are our enemies when we’ve never met them, or we’ve never even seen them. Refusing to be an enemy to those people is very important because it means opening up to people who are different. To look them in the eyes and listen to their stories. When you do that, you find that the differences between people are far smaller than the similarities that we all have as human beings.

Join us on April 16, 2019 and sit in for Irene Butter’s courageous firsthand account of one of the most harrowing chapters of human history.

Listening Guide: In The Moment Ep. 29

In episode #29 of In The Moment, correspondent Katy Sewall talks with John Lanchester (3:58) about his book The Wall. They delve into Lanchester’s inspiration for the book—a recurring dream. Lanchester recounts the prescient nature of his dream, which took place before discussions of Brexit and Trump’s border wall. The dream took place in the future of our world impacted by global climate change and a rising sea level, and followed a lone figure standing on a dark, cold wall. Scher and Lanchester explore the notion that walls such, though typically made for security and safety, often create exclusion and othering for those on the opposite side. Lanchester says that those who participate in othering must make constantly make excuses and seek justifications, and must train themselves to see the others as people wholly unlike themselves. In order to change how people see the world, says Lanchester, we need imaginative works of fiction.

Chief Correspondent Steve Scher interviews renowned biologist Frans de Waal (12:20) about our assumptions about animals. They discuss the common perception that animals only have instincts or minimal associative learning. De Waal recalls how in the 1990s his contemporaries laughed off his proposed theories of animal empathy and sympathy—yet he continued his research undaunted, inspired by the close relationships and knowledge he had developed about the primates he worked with. He discusses the process of measuring the physiological effects of emotions in animals, as opposed to feelings which are individual experiences. De Waal also reports that he’s just as happy to work with animals while relying solely on observations.

And host Jini Palmer sits down with Town Hall’s Marketing Manager Jonathan Shipley (21:44) to discuss the Town Crier blog and his interview with translator Michael Straus. Shipley discusses how he learned that the process of translation is not verbatim, but a more complex consideration of finding the “spirit” of the text. Jini and Jonathan delve into the importance of the translator as a part of the finished work, and of the ways which audiences interpret or receive that work.

Still Curious?

-Frans da Waal gave an enlightening TED talk on the moral behavior of animals.

-NPR offers a fascinating recorded interview with John Lanchester about one of his previous books How To Speak Money.

-You can read Jonathan’s interview with Michael Straus on the Town Crier.

Listening Guide: In The Moment Bonus Episode (Town Music)

In this music-oriented bonus episode of In The Moment, host Jini Palmer sits down with with Joshua Roman, curator of our Town Music series, for a conversation on all things chamber music. They explore the theatrical aspects of live performance, and Joshua gives us a window into the mind of a curator, offering us snapshots of his process for choosing musicians and arranging lineups each season.

After that, Jini and Joshua discuss stand-out elements of each of the concerts in our 2018-19 Town Music season. For the first performance, Sideshow by Talea Ensemble (15:50), Roman highlights the theatrical spin that the piece brings to chamber music—utilizing props, facial expressions and tightly controlled body movements to evoke the dark surreal nature of 20th-century Coney Island freak shows. Then he takes a look at Third Coast Percussion (18:20), the Grammy-winning Chicago quartet who will be presenting an avant garde percussion quartet commissioned by Philip Glass—his first-ever for percussion! Jini and Joshua also touch on Piano Ki Avaaz (22:00), the piano trio commissioned by rising star composer Reena Esmail. The piece is her first-ever piano trio composition, and it utilizes her signature techniques of incorporating Indian classical music into western classical style. And finally, Jini and Joshua explore Bach to Bates (25:12)—a concert juxtaposing classical works by Bach alongside cutting-edge commissions from Grammy-nominated composer Mason Bates, who employs a unique integration of electronic sounds and styles into his symphonic compositions.

Get inside the mind of a curator in this special episode, and learn about all the ways you can experience the cutting edge of chamber music and enjoy classical repertoire in new ways.

Drink Up for Town Hall

“There is no question in the mind of any intelligent person,” noted the August 12, 1916 edition of the Town Crier, “that intemperance is probably the worst curse that humanity labors under.”

Temperance. The social movement stands against the consumption of alcoholic beverages, emphasizing the negative effects of booze on health, personality, and family life. The movement led to Prohibition in the United States from 1920 to 1933. Washington State actually started their own Prohibition on January 1, 1916—making the production, distribution, and possession of liquor illegal. Prohibition was repealed in 1933, but during that entire time Seattle didn’t really stop producing, distributing, or possessing liquor. No, not at all. At one point, Seattle had about 4,000 illegal speakeasies in its city limits.

“Certainly the present boot-legging atmosphere is unendurable and destructive to the moral fibre of our manhood – an intolerable condition in which to bring up our youth,” the Crier stressed. But, then again, it noted, “In every other respect there is practically nothing the matter with Seattle and it is the finest and best city in the world.”

Indeed—Seattle is arguably the finest and best city in the world these days for beer. In fact, the whole state is great. Want to learn more? The Washington Beer Commission is a good place to start.

Better yet – want to drink and support Town Hall at the same time? You can! There are a series of “Drink Up for Town Hall” events in the coming weeks! Don’t miss this chance to stay warm, have a drink, and discuss your favorite Town Hall events with old friends and new.

Join us at:

Optimism Brewing Company on January 31. Town Hall will get $1 for every draft you buy!

Capitol Cider on February 6. Town Hall will get $1 for every draft you buy!

Vito’s on February 13. Town Hall will get 10% of all drink sales that night!

Lagunitas Brewing Company on February 19. Town Hall will get all beer sale proceeds!

Cheers, friends!

On Town Hall’s Architect George Foote Dunham

Nearly $30 million dollars in renovations later, Town Hall’s building is in its homestretch of reopening, even with some unforeseen delays. It’ll be as bright, shiny, and beautiful as it was when it first opened, but now with all the 21st century amenities. (We’re in the final push of the campaign to fund our historic renovation. Help us raise $200,000 in new gifts before March 1 and an anonymous donor will match your gifts, dollar-for-dollar! Learn more, here.)

The building was originally built as Seattle’s Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist. Construction began in 1916. It was designed by Portland architect George Foote Dunham (1876-1949). Built in the Roman Revival style, he wanted it to resemble, in updated terms, Rome’s Pantheon. The church owned the building from 1916 until 1998, when the congregation sold it to Town Hall LLC.

The Christian Science Movement was founded in Boston in 1879 by Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) who taught spiritual and physical healing through devotion to Christian principles. The First Church of Christ, Scientist, was built in Boston, Massachusetts and opened in 1894. Christian Science became the fastest growing religion in the United States, reaching nearly 270,000 members at its peak in 1936. The Manual of the Mother Church prohibits the church from publishing membership figures. However, it does provide names of Christian Science practitioners (members trained to offer Christian Science prayer on behalf of others). In 1941 there were 11,200 practitioners in the United States. In 2015, there were 965.

Seattle’s fourth Christian Science group formed in Seattle in 1909 with 41 members, meeting in rented spaces at Seattle’s Arcade Hall and the Hippodrome Theatre before Dunham began design and construction. Their new building was erected in two phases, first from 1916 through 1917 and later between 1922 and 1923. The main auditorium, named “Great Hall,” had curved pews that could seat 825 people. We will still have those pews in our newly renovated building. During its service as a church, the Great Hall housed weekly readings of the Bible and Eddy’s Science and Health With Keys to the Scriptures, as well as musical performances. The church installed a theatre organ in 1923. Because acoustics were important to churchgoers, Dunham carefully calibrated the sound projection within the Great Hall. Its shallow dome and thick walls provided good sound. (Town Hall’s new acoustic reflector will offer great sound, by the way. Also, we’ve permanently installed a Hearing Loop system in all our performance spaces.) There are no religious symbols adorning the church, nor most any Christian Science church.

Dunham himself was born September 17, 1876 in Burlington, Iowa. He attended the Armour Institute of Technology in Chicago, graduating in 1900, and was soon employed as a draftsman with the late Solon Spencer Beman, who designed Milwaukee’s first skyscraper, the Pabst Building. Dunham worked at Beman’s architectural firm from 1900-1906 until moving to Portland, Oregon where he stayed for 23 years, starting his own firm in 1910. He joined the Portland Architectural Club in 1913 and was treasurer of the American Institute of Architects, Oregon Chapter in 1925.

Most known for his residential work in Portland, Dunham also designed several other Christian Science Churches. He built First Church of Christ, Scientist in Portland with Beman; First Church of Christ, Scientist in Victoria, British Columbia; Spokane’s Second Church of Christ, Scientist; as well as other edifices in St. Louis and Orlando, Florida where he relocated to in 1929 until his death in 1949.

Sidebar: here’s a fun story about Dunham’s wife driving across the country from Portland to Orlando in a car she called “Old Faithful.”

Do you want to help build upon this history? Give a new gift of $500 or more to have your name inscribed on a custom-crafted plaque on the Great Hall stage—a reminder every time we come together that Town Hall truly belongs to all of us. Learn more, here.

An Important Update About Our Renovation

Dear friends,

Although our calendar has been a little quieter over these last weeks the work behind the scenes at Town Hall has never been more intense. Our staff is excitedly planning for the opportunities of a transformed building as both our renovation and the capital campaign approach their finale. However, amid all our energy and optimism, I’m writing with disappointing news regarding construction setbacks.

Our general contractor, Rafn, has encountered new and significant issues with plaster in the Great Hall and on the second floor that will affect the timeline of our reopening. Complications like these are unusual so close to completion, and we’re working with Rafn to understand the problem and its implications for our schedule. While they have yet to propose a new timeline, as of today they’re anticipating a 60-day delay. This team was selected especially for its experience with historic renovations, so we’re relying on their expertise to choose doing the work “right” over doing it “fast.”

All of which means we won’t be able to move back in time for our planned Homecoming festival. So much heart and hustle has gone into booking an outstanding lineup of Town Hall and partner-produced programs—it isn’t possible to simply slide the whole thing over by a month or two. So we’ve decided to move the festival to September, in order to present a lineup that’s as exciting and vibrant as the one we had planned. 

But don’t worry—we won’t be “dark” this whole time. In March we’ll return to hosting events in venues throughout the city. And the project truly is in its homestretch, as any tour of the building will attest. We will reopen in just a few months—we just don’t have an exact date yet—and we’ll start producing programs back home as soon as we have our certificate of occupancy (likely well before the official festival). We’ll ask for your goodwill as we start living into our building’s new spaces, systems, and capacities as we discover the place all over again together. And we’ll ask for your honest feedback to help us fine-tune the new (and familiar) Town Hall experience.

Over nearly 20 years Town Hall has come to mean so many things to this city—to some it’s a nonstop calendar of ideas, creativity, and activism; to others it’s a tool of expression and organization, or even a “feeling” of community, or a link to “old Seattle.” And to our staff, board, and volunteers, it’s an act of hospitality—an invitation to a more informed, engaged and connected life in this city. The building is a monument to (and an instrument of) all this, and more.

Together we’re not just restoring a landmark building—we’re securing Town Hall’s unique role as a people’s hall, for our generation and those to follow. It is only possible with you and through you. It really is your Town Hall—stay close now and you’ll feel it as we all come home together.

– Wier

P.S. As always, we want to hear from you. Please reach out to Missy Miller (Communications Director) if you have any questions or concerns.

Toasting Mozart

Mozart has been the toast of Seattle for quite some time. The old Town Crier (that ran locally from 1910 to 1938) has a plethora of references of concerts done by symphonies and choral groups; chamber music orchestras and soloists playing the renowned work of one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

For instance, a review of Fritz Kreisler playing Mozart’s “Concerto in G-major” can be found in the January 21st, 1933 edition of the Crier. “Mozart was flawlessly played,” the review enthuses. “The infinite unwearying grace of this music is perfectly suited to Mr. Kreisler’s minutely shaded manner. So many varieties of tone color from one instrument, such sweeping flights of spicatto and simplicity of the adagio flowingly phrased.”

The reviewer got very excited. “Writing with this music still in my ears there is a temptation to simply set down a restrained row of exclamation points so !!!!!!!! and have done with the search for mere inexpressive and over-worked words.”

Mozart’s birthday was only six days after that glowing Crier review of Mozart and Kreisler.


Byron Schenkman

For Town Hall’s ninth annual toast to Mozart’s birthday, host and curator Byron Schenkman will take their place on the piano for an evening performance of classical favorites. They are joined by Lee Peterson on piano, Nathan Whittaker on cello, and Rachell Ellen Wong on violin. After the concert there will be a reception and birthday toast in celebration of the legendary composer.

The concert repertoire will feature: Sonata in C Major, K. 19 d, for piano, four hands; Sonata in F Major, K. 376, for violin and piano; Variations on theme of Salieri, for piano; and Trio in B-flat Major, K. 502, for violin, cello, and piano.

This is very exciting!!!!!!!!

Buy your tickets now!!!!!!!!

Exclamation points!!!!!!!!

Fare Thee Well, Viaduct

The Alaskan Way Viaduct is closed forever tonight. Viadoom, we’re calling the traffic problems we’ll now have for a few weeks and months now that it is no more. Viaductpocalypse, we’re calling it. Here’s the Seattle TimesSurvival Guide for it.

The October 4, 1924 issue of the Town Crier was crying about traffic problems in a piece entitled, appropriately, “Traffic Problems.” “The rapid increase in numbers of the automobile has created a nation-wide traffic congestion,” it laments. “The pressure is growing constantly greater. Take a look at the Bothell Highway or the Seattle-Tacoma road on a Sunday afternoon for a hint at what the future is likely to bring.”

The future brought it. “Money, study and cooperation are necessary to the solution of the problem,” the writer says. “Money is required to build new roads, more roads, better roads, and wider roads.” The writer continues, “City planners and road-builders with foresight and the necessary money a century or more ago would have solved our problem before it arose. It is doubtful whether we will have the foresight and money to solve the traffic problem in the future.”

When the first phase of the Alaskan Way Viaduct opened in 1953 the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said, “The viaduct looms like a royal necklace across the bosom of the Queen City of the Pacific Northwest.”

The Alaskan Way Viaduct in 1956. Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 53373

The viaduct was completed in full in 1959—a triumph of engineering and civic team spirit to solve Seattle’s traffic woes.

By the 1970s the viaduct was considered an eyesore. By the 1990s it was considered a safety threat. An earthquake at a magnitude 7.5 or greater would undoubtedly bring the whole thing down. It was also overworked. The structure was designed expecting to carry 65,000 vehicles a day, but by the 1990s its load was averaging 110,000 vehicles a day.  

What will happen once the tunnel that replaces the viaduct opens? We’ll find out soon enough. “Cooperation,” the Crier noted, “is most essential in the untangling of our transportation jam. Those that must cooperate are the motorists, the pedestrians and the street car systems.”

We hear you, Crier. Let us all do our best to untangle.

(In remembrance of the viaduct, Town Hall’s own Jonathan Shipley has been documenting his travels across it on Instagram)

Jazz Maniacs

There was much concern in the February 25, 1922 edition of the Town Crier. The writers were worried about this thing called jazz music. They questioned, “Will the willingness of some musicians yield abjectly to the existing ‘jazz-craze’ even though momentarily financially remunerative, not eventually prove socially demeaning?” They thought most certainly it would prove socially demeaning.

“Musically speaking,” the story continued, “these are the impressions: The fiddle whines and wails, reminding one of Mr. Thomas Cat on a moonlight night, inviting bootjack bouquets from back windows.” The saxophone was no better. It “bawls periodically like a lonesome cow.”

Don’t get the writer started on trombones. It “heaves up spasmodically like the fellow who has imbibed too freely of boot-legging moisture.” The cornet is a “cackling hen,” and the poor piano is “pulverized with arpeggios and chromatics until you can think of nothing else than a clumsy waiter with a tin tray full of china and cutlery taking a ‘header’ down a flight of concrete steps.”

So much for musical effect. The writer doesn’t care much for the music…nor the musicians. “A bunch of intoxicated clowns,” the Crier cries, “indulging in all sorts of physical gyrations.”

Gadzooks! What a mess Seattle’s music scene was in 1922. The writer all but knew the jazz craze would die down but the musicians would forever be marked as clowns. “In the interest of conserving the dignity of the musical profession I would ask contractors to minimize what I believe will be a detriment to all of us.”

Jazz did not die down—not in Seattle, not anywhere. It was just heating up. Just as the writers were beginning to lament Seattle’s jazz scene, four women were bringing jazz further into the fore. From 1918 to 1924, pianist Gertrude Harvey Wright was one of four women in Seattle’s first black musicians’ union, the American Federation of Musicians’ Local 458.

Gertrude Harvey Wright, Virginia Hughes, Edythe Turnham, and a Mrs. Austin, all worked with their male counterparts at union headquarters and on the bandstand. Morphing to the AFM 493, the union, along with Local 76, co-existed for the next forty years, becoming the pillar of Seattle’s jazz scene.

The 493 Union represented such jazz greats as Ray Charles, Phil Moore, and Quincy Jones.

Edythe Turnham and Band

Some of those early women musicians who made their mark include Ann Coy who played piano and headed The Black Aces with her husband. The aforementioned Edythe Turnham headed her own big band, The Knights of Syncopation. Evelyn Bundy was a member of the Garfield Ramblers and, later, led the Garfield High School band.

Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra. Photo by Jim Levitt.

Today, there are plenty of local jazz women. In fact, there are entire organizations. Seattle Women in Jazz is the first organization of its kind locally to specifically highlight some of Seattle’s best jazz artists and bands, led by and/or comprised of women. One of those bands is the Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra. Seattle JazzED has its own Girls Ellington Project Ensemble for 9th to 12-graders.  

Jazz maniacs, all. The echoes of Gertrude Harvey Wright’s piano can still be heard. The bawling saxophone of Turnham’s big band is still bawling.

We’re all the better for it.

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