SEVERANCE HALL was built as the home of the CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA just 12 years after its formation in 1918. The concert hall, given by JOHN L. SEVERANCE as a memorial to his wife, Elizabeth DeWitt Severance, was erected in 1930-31 from designs by the architectural firm of WALKER & WEEKS with construction costs exceeding $2.6 million. The entire project (bldg., land, endowments, and furnishings) represented a $7 million investment. The building contained a concert hall seating 1,844, a chamber-music hall on the ground floor seating 400, and a radio-broadcasting studio. On either side of the auditorium were triangular wings that contained circulation areas, a green room, a lounge, offices, and a library. Onstage were an elevator for the orchestra, a cyclorama, and a skydome for operatic productions, as well as a large E. M. Skinner pipe organ. The hall had a unique system of colored spotlights operated by a clavilux or "color organ" for constantly changing lighting effects. In 1958, the stage was completely rebuilt, with a new acoustical shell to improve the projection of the orchestra's sound.
The architecture of Severance Hall was transitional between the Georgian/Neo-Classical style represented by the CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF ART across the Wade Park Lagoon and the Art Deco or Art Moderne style that had developed in the late 1920s. The main entrance is a Renaissance portico. The interior, however, is an eclectic mix of styles. The elliptical 2-story grand foyer is transitional in function with a Neo-Egyptian design, while the auditorium is both modern and traditional in its stylized ornament and color, featuring classical and Art Deco touches. The Reinberger Chamber is 18th century in design. An unusual feature of the building was an internal automobile driveway, beneath the entrance, which was closed in 1970 and converted into a restaurant in 1971. Severance Hall in 1994 shared access to a newly constructed underground garage with UNIVERSITY CIRCLE INC. An entrance pavilion which conforms to the hall's design was added in 1994. In 1995 Severance's concert hall had a seating capacity of 2,101, with an average occupancy rate for performances of 90%.