Former Civic Auditorium and Seattle Center Opera House opens as the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall on June 28, 2003.

  • By Alyssa Burrows
  • Posted 8/07/2003
  • Essay 4230

On June 28, 2003, the new Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, home to the Pacific Northwest Ballet and the Seattle Opera, opens for its first performances with a gala party. McCaw Hall is the latest incarnation of what was once Seattle's Civic Auditorium (1928), which was then gutted and rebuilt as the Seattle Center Opera House for the World's Fair in 1962. On November 2, 1999, Seattle voters approved Proposition One bonds that included $38 million dedicated to the refurbishment of the Opera House, and construction began on January 17, 2002. The Opera House closed its doors in December 2001.The new opera facility is named after opera supporter Marion McCaw Garrison (1917-2012).

Bruce, Craig, John, and Keith McCaw of McCaw Cellular Communications gave $20 million to the project, the largest arts or cultural capital gift ever made in the region, to recognize their mother's lifelong arts support in the community. They named the hall after her -- Marion Oliver McCaw Garrison. The Kreielsheimer Foundation gave $10 million, and the first floor garden in the lobby is named the Kreielsheimer Promenade.

Well-dressed patrons paid between $300 to $500 to attend the gala "The Curtain Rises" party, which included performances by the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra, Seattle Opera singers, and Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers. Gerard Schwarz conducted the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra in the first piece presented in the new hall -- "Dedication Overture," a new composition written by William Bolcom. On Sunday the 29th, McCaw Hall gave an open house, free to the public, with performances by musicians and dancers from the community.

Architects Owen Richards and Mark Reddington led the LMN Architects team in designing the new hall. The $127 million refurbishment saved about 30 percent of the original building, part of that being the old ceiling. The rebuilding of the auditorium improved the sight lines for the audience by staggering the seats and steepening the rake (the angle of grade of the auditorium floor). To improve acoustics and to make the performance space more intimate, the hall's side walls were brought 30 feet closer together. The Opera House, although adequate for ballet and opera acoustics, had many weak spots in certain seating areas, and did not work well for symphonies performing on the stage. Jaffe Holden Acoustics of Norwalk, Connecticut, designed the acoustics.

Besides the new auditorium, McCaw Hall refurbishments include a five-story lobby with a floor-to-ceiling curved glass wall overlooking the Seattle Center and Mercer Street, an indoor garden on the main floor, state-of-the-art backstage technology, an improved backstage and orchestra pit, a new lecture hall, a coat check, a gift shop, and an indoor-outdoor cafe. Some heating, ventilation, wiring, and plumbing systems that dated back to the 1928 Civic Auditorium were replaced, and the new building has the latest in seismic safety and disabled patron access. The new hall also increased the number of women's restroom stalls from 35 to 90 -- a welcome relief.

Wagner's Parsifal, the Seattle Opera's first performance in the new building, opened August 2, 2003.


R. M. Campbell, "Marion Oliver McCaw Hall: A Star is Reborn," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 19, 2003; Melinda Bargreen, "McCaws Downplay Their $20 Million Donation," The Seattle Times,, June 22, 2003; Melinda Bargreen, "McCaw Gala Tonight, Open House Tomorrow," Ibid., June 28, 2003; Melinda Bargreen, "Newly Opened McCaw Hall Is a Hit with Arts Patrons and Performers, Ibid., June 29, 2003; The Seattle Center Foundation website accessed on August 5, 2003 (; The Seattle Opera website, accessed on August 5, 2003 (

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