John M. Hall, a young attorney from Flint, was elected as superintendent of the Chautauqua Educational Department of Bay View in 1885. Under his leadership, he established the first university level summer school in Michigan, which quickly enrolled 700 students.
After nearly three decades as superintendent of the Bay View assembly, the Bay View University and the Bay View Reading Circle, Hall announced his gift of a new auditorium in 1913 to replace the original 1887 “Old Auditorium”. The new facility was to be completed the following summer but construction problems and Hall’s death delayed the project. In 1915, during the 40th year after the founding of Bay View, John M. Hall Auditorium and the Pilcher pipe organ were dedicated. The cost of the Auditorium was approximately $50,000 and the pipe organ $8,000. The Auditorium originally was reported to seat 2,100 and was designed by architect W. E. N. Hunter of Detroit. John M. Hall Auditorium has one of the few proscenium curtains (1914) remaining in Michigan, featuring Little Traverse Bay, and is lowered on very special occasions.
In the 1950s theater seats were installed on the first floor to replace the original wooden chairs. During the next decades, work continued to always upgrade the sound system and improve the interior of the Auditorium. By 2008, with many new theater venues surrounding Bay View, it was decided that J. M. Hall Auditorium needed upgrading.
In a recent fund raising campaign for Hall Auditorium, the sound and lighting systems were upgraded, along with new seating for the first floor, carpeting, and window blinds and back stage improvements were made. The former theater seats were put in the balcony, replacing the original 1914 wooden chairs. The auditorium now seats 846 on the main floor and seats 528 in the balcony. The project was completed for the beginning of the 2012 season at a cost of approximately 1.6 million dollars. The current summer program continues with many traditions from the past. Sunday ecumenical worship services, Sunday evening vesper concerts, artist and student recitals, Theatre Arts performances, and a wide variety of special entertainment and educational experiences bring thousands each season to the John M. Hall Auditorium and its surrounding buildings.
In the early summer of 1915 as John M. Hall Auditorium was being completed by C. J. Place of Petoskey, a 52 x 19 foot hand painted 'grand drape' arrived at Bay View. The scene was probably a generic one but closely resembled a view of Little Traverse Bay from Menonaqua Beach. Nobody knew anything about the drape, where it came from, who painted it, or who paid for it. Hall had died the previous December and, apparently, had purchased it for the new auditorium.
For nearly a century the curtain has hung in the presidium of the auditorium. Some damage has occurred over the years, however, two years ago the Historic Awareness Committee agreed to help support the renovation of this antique in keeping with the rejuvenation of auditorium. Through proceeds of the sale of the book “Bay View, An American Idea” and generous donations have helped defray the costs of the curtain renovation project.
Howard Sutcliffe, Textile Conservator at the Detroit Institute of Arts, came to Bay View for 10 days and worked with volunteers to clean the curtain, patch the holes, and rehang and straighten it. The work was hard, demanded long hours and required some volunteers to work on the second level of the scaffolding or on ladders with vacuums on their backs. Jim Burt was always present to assemble any needed equipment.
Sutcliffe returned in May for another week to complete the project. At this time he supervised the application of a consolidator to stabilize the entire painting. Liza Lee Collins worked with Howard for an entire day wearing masks and protective clothing and working on scaffolding. After that Howard instructed everyone on the methods of in-painting the damaged areas of the scene to improve the image’s appearance. The results amazed everyone.
Research on the painter “Web Hidon” has yielded nothing but contact with conservators of curtain collections in Vermont and Iowa indicates that the Bay View curtain is probably the largest theatre curtain remaining in the country and probably one of the first to be restored. At a professional meeting this fall Howard will be presenting the methods used in the process to other professionals from all over the country.
Volunteers include Liza Lee Collins, Julie Collins, Rose Crandall, Barbara Leonard, Lisa Loyd, Regina Russell, Peggy Lewis, Mary Jane Doerr, Lenoir Stanley, John Stanley, Norm Wells, Sue Ternan, Sue Hufford, Peggy Child Smith, Jim Burt, David Krause, and Joe Higgins who put in an impressive total of 381 of the 517 hours to complete the work. Their efforts reduced the cost of the entire project to less than half of what it would have been otherwise. Nearly 75% of the cost has been paid but funding for the remaining $4,000 is still needed. You can contribute to this important part of our American history online.
For everyone involved this has been a very special time working together and the results are well worth the hard work. Now at performances at Hall Auditorium, all can enjoy another treasure of our rich historical heritage.
To be an institution in which Christian values and traditions are central; To enrich the human experience for individuals and families within Bay View and the surrounding community through a seasonal program of religious, educational, cultural and recreational opportunities; to provide a Christian perspective in a changing world.
The Bay View Association is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization.