Friday, July 8, 2011

Steinert Music Hall, Boston, MA - 6th July

On the Wednesday morning I travelled downtown to try to find the one building I really wanted to see during my visit to Boston. I'd read about the Steinert Music Hall in a book I had chanced across when researching buildings, but there was very little written about it and even fewer pictures of it in its current state - so, I set this to be my main project for Boston.

The building housing the Steinert Music Hall, found at 162-168 Boylston St. (just opposite Boston Common) was built in 1896. Its six-story facade consists mainly of Indiana limestone. The 21,000 sq. ft. of the first to third floors is occupied to this day by M & Steinert & Sons as a showroom for their pianos and organs and other choice instruments stocked.

Second-floor showroom: M Steinert & Sons (I calculated over $1.5m of pianos on the second floor alone)

After taking a few shots upstairs in the showroom I was called back down to the store where I was introduced to Coleman, the building's maintenance man, who'd agreed to let me into the Music Hall.

The Hall itself lies 35ft below Boylston Street and in its day seated over 650 people over two floors (one a balcony) and in its four proscenium boxes. On completion the elliptical Hall was decorated in an Italian Renaissance style, with a panelled 7ft dado around all walls. Above this were six panels (still in existence), three on each side, bearing the names of Bach, Mozart, Schubert, and on the left Schumann, Beethoven, and Haydn.

I was led by Coleman firstly to the balcony overlooking the Hall with the stage in the distance at the south end. Coleman went down below to turn on the lights, and when the room was lit the wonderful little hall revealed itself in all its glory.

Steinert Music Hall: the view from the North Balcony looking towards the stage

The contrast between the 2nd floor showroom filled with its $100,000 grand pianos and the dilapidated Music-Hall come piano-graveyard was stark. With all but a few of the original chairs and benches removed, the Hall was used as glorified dumping-ground and store-room. Broken pianos, large wooden transportation crates, old toilets, boxes, cabinets, amongst other items of bric-a-brac lay strewn around its magnificent floor.

One of the six fluted pillars, decorated with a frieze of acanthus lead and honeysuckle adorning the Steinert Music Hall's walls

Despite being in a bad state of disrepair much of the original plaster, stonework and paint survives, which the top balcony provided a perfect vantage point to inspect from.

Landscape shot of lower hall, South, towards the stage

I followed Coleman down the double staircase into the main Hall itself. The light was mellow and provided an opportunity for some longer exposure shots to capture the mellow glow from the reddy-orange, flaking paint.


 The view North, from the stage towards the entrance hall and balcony

I must have spent around 3 hours in the Steinert building, and I felt like I barely scratched the surface - and this rushed entry does little justice to my experience there. Needless to say it was an immense privilege to be one of the few photographers who have been lucky enough to experience the beauty of Steinert Hall. It concluded my stay in Boston city, and made every minute there worthwhile.

I've gone on long enough, and I'll leave this post with a few more choice shots of interest.

The french-leafed wrought-iron balustrade leading down from the top balcony to the ground floor  


An original chair next to the cloakroom door


  1. So jealous of your access to such a beautiful place - as both a photographer of urban decay as well as a former piano player. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great photos. That sprinkler system looks fairly modern though. I wonder if there was an attempt to bring it to up to code but it fell through.

    1. The pipes are black iron and much too small to provide sprinkler protection. I suspect they are the remnants of gas lines for lighting or to provide gas service to an upper floor.

    2. Those are most definitely, added in at hast fire protection, you can tell by the orange pipe couplings on the straight pipe. (that is only for water).

      Also in a note, as beautifully as this was conceived, in no way would the architect of original would let these ugly pipes in the original magnificent design.

    3. Agreed... The small "drops" you see are just providing water to one or two sprinkler heads in the pockets off the main theater area. You can bet that anyone with $100,000 pianos that are insured by a third party will have mandated fire sprinklers in their building by the insurance underwriter, if the city hadn't forced a sprinkler retrofit. Like mentioned early the orange couplings connect "grooved" pieces of pipe, and are a fairly modern technology compared to the age of the building.

  3. I just learned about this place in today's Boston Globe. So cool you were able to get in there! Great pictures.

  4. i used to work at 150 boylston and down down down in the cellars was another world. you could walk out till you could hear the t trains squealing around the corner at the boylston st station. i wonder if all those buildings on that block were connected underground.

  5. Thank you SO much for sharing these pictures - wow what real hidden treasure. I was actually disgusted with the responses of what to do with the hall. I hope that some philanthropist will see this posting and bring it back to life as a performance hall ONLY.

  6. That is something I would have loved to experience for myself. You had a once in a lifetime experience. Gives me chills just thinking about it.

  7. Strange, the image previews embedded in the article make it look like you photographed the place with an iPhone, but upon clicking they're gorgeous! Nearly passed them by...

  8. Someone should start a fund to restore it, god knows there is a lot of money floating around Boston, pocket change to some.