Marion Oliver McCaw Hall: History

Marion Oliver McCaw Hall © Perry Cooper

Marion Oliver McCaw Hall was unveiled to the public on June 28, 2003. A triumph of artistic vision, environmental stewardship and organizational cooperation, McCaw Hall is a civic asset like no other. As a technically superb performance facility, McCaw Hall has taken a place among the great halls of the world. As a beautiful, accessible and welcoming addition to Seattle's arts auditoriums, McCaw Hall is essential to the livelihood of two major performing arts organizations and a priceless gift to our entire community.

The creation of McCaw Hall has helped to secure the future of Pacific Northwest Ballet and Seattle Opera. The hall also provides a destination for many other international, community and cultural groups that will perform on its stage as part of Bumbershoot, Northwest Folklife and Seattle International Children's Festival, all part of Seattle Center's tradition of diverse programming.

As extraordinary as the arts organizations that inhabit it, Marion Oliver McCaw Hall represents a total transformation of the 75-year old civic auditorium/opera house, and is located on a site that in one form or another has nurtured Seattle's vibrant arts culture since the 1880's. In 1881, a saloon owner left his personal fortune of $20,000 to the pioneer city to build a hall that would hold community gatherings of a civic and artistic nature. It took nearly 40 years, but with public support and a gift of land, the City opened the Civic Auditorium in 1927, promising that it would forever enable "high or low, rich or poor to gather here to nourish their souls with the best of music and the wonder of pageantry."

The Civic Auditorium did indeed fulfill that early promise for more than seven decades, but with only a new exterior façade and minimal interior upgrades for the 1962 World's Fair, the old facility had endured almost unchanged since its creation in 1927. By the start of the new millennium, the strain of intensive use and millions of visitors were painfully evident.

Marion Oliver McCaw Hall replaced a facility that was seismically unstable and suffering from a deteriorating infrastructure, cramped spaces, poorly operating technical systems, functional limitations and lack of true accessibility for many visitors and artists. Now that it is open, this spectacular venue meets the needs of today's public, patrons and performers with the finest aesthetic, artistic, and technical accoutrements—not to mention full seismic safety and full accessibility.

Find Out More

For more detailed information about McCaw Hall venue spaces, services, and accommodations, please visit Seattle Center's McCaw Hall Webpage

Marion Oliver McCaw Hall: Just the Facts

The Building

Marion Oliver McCaw Hall at Seattle Center is the region's premier performance hall. The 295,000 square-foot hall includes a state-of-the-art 2,900-seat auditorium, a 400-seat Lecture Hall, a café, a luminous five-story serpentine glass Grand Lobby, and a 17,800-square-foot public plaza that serves as an entry into McCaw Hall and the Seattle Center Campus. McCaw Hall is the home of Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Opera, community festivals, and guest performers from around the world.

Project Cost

$127 million

Fund Sources

A public-private partnership began with the 1999 passage of Seattle Proposition I, raising $38 million in public funds.
Public Sources: $55 million
Private Gifts: $72 million. Seattle Center Foundation led the campaign to raise private gifts in partnership with Pacific Northwest Ballet and Seattle Opera.


January 17, 2002 Groundbreaking for Marion Oliver McCaw Hall
June 28–29, 2003 Marion Oliver McCaw Hall Grand Opening
August 2–24, 2003 Seattle Opera's Inaugural Production, Parsifal
Sept. 25–Oct. 5, 2003 Pacific Northwest Ballet's Inaugural Production at the new McCaw Hall, Swan Lake

Primary Tenants and Uses

Resident Groups—Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Opera
Festivals—Bumbershoot, NW Folklife, Seattle International Children's Festival
Other Uses—Touring performances, concerts, conferences, motivational speakers in the Lecture Hall, holiday parties and private presentations in Reception Rooms, weddings and receptions in the Grand Lobby, anniversaries in the Principal Performer's Lounge and more.

Historical Background

As far back as 1881, early Seattle pioneers envisioned the site of Marion Oliver McCaw Hall as the 'civic center' of our community. Saloonkeeper James Osborne donated $20,000 for the cause and in 1889 Seattle pioneers David and Louisa Denny donated the land for "public use forever." The Civic Auditorium was built in 1928, and dubbed "The House that Suds Built." For the 1962 World's Fair, the Auditorium became the Seattle Center Opera House with a $3 million renovation to modernize the outer façade and public areas. McCaw Hall is a complete transformation, an entirely new facility for patrons of artistic and community events. Public levies have supported each transformation.

Highlighted Features

The design objective was to create a hall that engages the entire community. A luminous five-story curving glass façade is a stunning architectural presence, symbolizing the uplifting enjoyment of live performances. Colored lights are choreographed and projected onto a series of sheer metal curtains, or scrims, to literally draw the art out of the building. The bright and airy Grand Lobby provides spectacular spaces and views. The 2,900-seat auditorium preserves the superb acoustics while narrowing the walls to create excellent sightlines and a more intimate relationship between performer and patron. Mechanically, the hall features all new stage, theatrical, backstage and fly loft systems. Luxury amenities include ample concessions, a café and double the number of women's restrooms.

Name: Marion Oliver McCaw Hall

Through a $20 million dollar naming gift from the four McCaw brothers—Bruce, Craig, John and Keith—the hall is named in honor of their mother, Marion Oliver McCaw Garrison. For more than 30 years, the performing arts in the Northwest have thrived thanks to the leadership, generosity and contributions of Mrs. Garrison. In addition to being a champion of the arts, Mrs. Garrison is an opera enthusiast and founding member of the Seattle Opera Board. She is the recipient of the Corporate Council of the Arts Lifetime Achievement in the Arts award.

Design Team

Architect: LMN Architects, Seattle (Mark Reddington, design partner; Owen Richards, project manager)
Landscape/Site Designer: Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, Seattle
Interior Designer: Sussman/Prejza & Co. Inc., Los Angeles
Lighting Artist: Leni Schwendinger Light Projects, Ltd., New York
Structural Engineer: Magnunsson Klemencie Associates, Seattle
Mechanical Engineer: CDi Engineers, Lynnwood, WA
Electrical Engineer: Sparling, Seattle
Civil Engineer: AKB Engineers, Seattle
Acoustical Consultant: Jaffe Holden Acoustics, Norwalk, Conn.
Theater Consultant: Schuler & Shook, Chicago

General Contractor/Construction Management

Skanska (formerly Baugh Construction), Seattle

Owner and Operator

City of Seattle

Square Footage

Marion Oliver McCaw Hall 295,000-square-feet (total building, does not include skybridge, Promenade, or plaza)
Susan Brotman Auditorium 41,030 sq. ft.
Kreielsheimer Promenade 17,726 sq. ft.
Grand Lobby 12,000 sq. ft.
The Boeing Company South Campus Plaza 10,143 sq. ft.
Neukom Family Second Tier Lobby 7,500 sq. ft.
Microsoft First Tier Lobby 5,500 sq. ft.
Rehearsal Hall 4,000 sq. ft.
The Allen Foundation for the Arts Room (North Reception Room) 3,700 sq. ft.
The Norcliffe Room (South Reception Room) 3,395 sq. ft.
Nesholm Family Lecture Hall 3,700 sq. ft.

Find Out More

For more detailed information about McCaw Hall venue spaces, services, and accommodations, please visit Seattle Center's McCaw Hall Webpage

Nesholm Family Lecture Hall © Carson Jones.

Nesholm Family Lecture Hall

At Seattle Center's McCaw Hall

The 400-seat Nesholm Family Lecture Hall features a raked floor, built-in Video/DVD system, and modern sound and lighting equipment. With its own lobby, restrooms and entrance, the Lecture Hall is a prime location for speaking engagements, presentations and films or multi-media events. The Nesholm Family Lecture Hall is fully accessible, with wheel chair seating, transfer arm seats and assisted-listening.

For more information or to book an event, contact (206) 684-7200 or visit