Renovations revitalize Harper Hall

Carolyn Schultz

Over the summer, Harper Hall received a much-needed facelift. Forty-nine years after Lawrence University built Harper Hall, the technical equipment was no longer up to date, the carpet was wearing out and the seats were uncomfortable and had a tendency to squeak whenever an audience member moved. These squeaks have been reproduced as not-so-lovely additions to many recital recordings over the past few years. It was time for the fifties-era metal seats with retractable desks to go.
The fifties-era lighting was replaced by new state-of-the-art lighting for the stage with the latest digital control panels. A new digital projector and drop-down screen were installed so Harper Hall can again be used as a classroom and lecture hall as it was when the Music Drama Center opened in 1959.
You will now also see an LCD screen in the lobby outside of the hall so latecomers can watch the progress of the concert or recital without having to peek through the exit doors. This will hopefully encourage less disruption during the recital and allow those coming after the doors close to miss as little of the performance as possible.
“[Harper Hall] looks like a whole new facility,” said Dean of the Conservatory, Brian Pertl. “The new seats, along with other acoustical improvements, will greatly improve the sound of the hall for performing musicians.”
The new seats are classically upholstered theater seats in maroon with wooden frames. Junior Molly Preston said, “The new seats in Harper are like sitting on a cloud. The seats are designed so that even short people like me can see over those in front.” The hall was re-carpeted with a shade of gray that compliments the new seats. All wood surfaces, including the stage, were painstakingly sanded down and refinished.
Harper Hall was built in 1959 as part of the Music-Drama Center. The building was one of the largest undertakings on the Lawrence campus since the beginning of the university. It garnered support from all students and faculty, who contributed to fundraising efforts and publicity for the new project. Eventually, after years of hard work, the Lawrence Development Fund decided to go ahead with the building process even though they had not yet raised all of $1.5 million needed.
The Music-Drama Center was needed to replace the over-used and over-crowded concert halls and classrooms in the first conservatory building, Peabody Hall, built in 1909 where the YMCA is now. The center and all unique concert halls were designed by area architect Frank C. Shattuck and built by the Boldt Construction Company.
Shattuck designed Harper Hall in the shape of a fan, allowing for greater audience capacity and unique acoustics and aesthetics. According to a press release published at the opening of the Center, “The 250 seat recital hall, which will give light, bright reinforcement to musical performance, will feature a splayed outside wall and five-foot square reflective ceiling panels in an egg crate pattern and will reinforce sound without destroying it.”
Harper Hall’s namesake, William H. Harper became the first Dean of the Conservatory of music in 1908. He “created a conservatory of music out of what had been a department of the college,” said a press release from the Center’s grand opening.
After almost fifty years, Lawrence made much needed improvements to Harper Hall that will allow it to be utilized for generations to come. When Harper Hall was built, it had fully functional, state-of-the-art equipment and met the needs of those using the hall. Now Harper Hall has been fully restored to its former glory, updated for the 21st century, and is able to meet the needs of present and future Lawrentians.
If you are interested in more of the history behind Harper Hall and its namesake, visit the Lawrence archives.