Built in 1925 and designed by the Chicago, Illinois based firm Rapp & Rapp, Powell Symphony Hall (formerly known as The St. Louis Theater), located at 718 North Grand Boulevard,was first used for vaudeville performances and as a movie house. In 1966, the theater closed as a movie house and vaudeville stage after a showing of “The Sound of Music”, the St. Louis Symphony society, with the help of Oscar Johnson, Jr, purchased the theater for $500, 000. At the same time, the theatre was renamed after St. Louis businessman Walter S. Powell when his widow donated $1 million dollars to the purchase and use of the building by the St. Louis Symphony. After the purchase was completed, an additional $2 million was put forth by the Ford Foundation for upgrades and renovation work on the building.
After the renovation work was completed, Powell Hall was reopened on January 24th, 1968 to enthusiastic reviews. Music critic Harold Schonberg wrote in his article “Working with traditional means, Cyril Harris (the acoustician who was in charge of the acoustical reconstruction) managed to obtain traditional sound-rich, full, detailed, with plenty of bass and extraordinary presence…a hall in which it is a pleasure to listen to music.” Isaac Stern, a renowned violinist of the 20th Century, said after his first performance that “Powell Hall is first-rate. It ranks with Carnegie Hall in New York and Symphony Hall in Boston.” Over the years, Powell Hall would see a wide range of performances and events, including the St. Louis Children’s Choirs, the St. Louis Youth Symphony, Symphonic Hollywood, sing-a-longs and the St. Louis Speaker Series. In the 1980s, after the Fox Theater and the Sheldon Concert Hall were renovated, a plan was put forward to revitalize the area that the Fox, Sheldon and Powell Hall were in. This plain turned into the Grand Center Redevelopment Project, a multi-million dollar development plan that ended up making Powell Hall the focal point of the area. In May of 2001, Powell Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places for being historically significant to the city of St. Louis. An interesting part of Powell Hall’s history is a man by the name of Carl Stalling. Before working with Warner Brothers, Mr. Stalling was the organist for the St. Louis Theater. Another part of Powell’s history concerns a ghost. The hall is said to be haunted by a man by the name of George who is believed to a performer from the hall’s vaudeville days.
When there are no productions taking place, a free one hour tour is available to the public. These tours are by reservation only so it is best to call ahead. The Moonrise Hotel, Sheraton St. Louis City Center and the Westin are three of the hotels in the area.