The University Record, July 9, 2001

Hill’s legendary acoustics attract world-class performers

By Nelvia Van’t Hul
News and Information Services

The Hill Auditorium stage, as seen during the recent Medical School commencement. (Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)
Hill Auditorium was dedicated on June 25, 1913. It cost $282,000 and was designed by Detroit architect Albert Kahn and his associate, Ernest Wilby. The bulk of the funding—$200,000—was bequeathed to the University by Arthur Hill, who was a U-M Regent 1901–09.

Hill Auditorium is a four-story, reddish-brown brick building. The south facade, its focal point, features four massive Doric columns of stone. The entrance is framed by limestone, which in turn is framed by a border of decorative tiles and brickwork. A stone stringcourse marks the division between the first and second floors, and a stringcourse of terra cotta divides the third floor and attic.

Few changes have been made to the structure. The marquees that hung above the east and west entrances have been removed, and the skylight was roofed over, although it is still visible on the interior.

Hill Auditorium’s excellent acoustics are known worldwide and have made the facility a favorite venue for legions of famous musicians, performance artists and speakers. For more than 80 years (1913–94), the acclaimed May Festival made its home in Hill Auditorium, featuring such renowned ensembles as the Boston Festival Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Many important community and University events have taken place in the auditorium, including commencements, honors convocations and seven U-M presidential inaugurations.

The list of artists who have graced the stage at Hill reads like a who’s who in the performing arts. These include conductors Leonard Bernstein, Eugene Ormandy, Arthur Fiedler and Leopold Stokowski; singers Enrico Caruso, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman and Luciano Pavarotti; and musicians Sergei Rachmaninoff, Jasha Heifetz, Pablo Casals, Vladimir Horowitz, Isaac Stern, Andres Segovia and Yo-Yo Ma.

Among the noted speakers who appeared in the auditorium are Robert Frost, Will Rogers, Richard Byrd, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sinclair Lewis, Jesse Jackson, Hillary Clinton, Cornel West and Garrison Keillor. In fall 2000, Hill Auditorium hosted the official naming ceremony for the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel received an honorary degree on the auditorium’s stage in September 2000.

Hill Auditorium was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Architecturally, it is important because of its association with the renowned Kahn. It is also a fine example of an architectural type—a large auditorium with superb acoustics. To the University and the community, Hill Auditorium is synonymous with the best in the performing arts.