Elliott Hall of Music 75th Anniversary: 1940-2015
by Amy Long
Hunkered in the heart of Purdue’s West Lafayette campus for 75 years, Elliott Hall of Music stands as one of the University’s most iconic landmarks—recognized as much for excitement and energy erupting from within as for its sturdy brick walls.
While Elliott Hall of Music’s physical size is notable—the 6,000-seat theater is one of the nation’s largest proscenium auditoriums, according to Purdue Convocations director Todd Wetzel—the larger-scale productions it hosts make Elliott Hall exceptional, from world-class ballet to grand-scale Broadway shows, discourses led by renowned dignitaries to electrifying rock concerts.
The Hall of Music was the vision of Edward Charles Elliott, Purdue’s sixth president, who wanted a state-of-the- art facility large enough to house growing commencement exercises and to also give the student body a gathering place for convocations. About half of the project’s $1.2 million price tag came from a Public Works Administration grant; Elliott himself lobbied the Indiana state legislature for necessary matching funds. New construction expenses for a similar building today would easily reach nine figures.
Longtime local architect Walter Scholer designed the building, with J. André Fouilhoux, designer of New York’s Radio City Music Hall, serving as consulting architect. These visionaries didn’t just imagine a building; they conceived of a place where students could gather, engage, listen, learn, communicate, and celebrate.
Most Purdue students pass through Elliott’s doors at some point. The hall hosts about 200 events each year—from freshman orientation to commence- ment exercises—and almost every student leaves Purdue with indelible memories from Elliott Hall of Music.
Those unforgettable moments extend to Greater Lafayette audiences and beyond. They’ve enjoyed student talents in the PMO Christmas Show or Purdue Bands showcases, rocked with such artists as Bruce Springsteen, Sting, and Lady Gaga, been captivated by the New York City Opera and the Joffrey Ballet Company, and drawn inspiration from international figures like the Dalai Lama, Toni Morrison, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Rather than trek to Indianapolis or Chicago for first-rate experiences, area residents find them at Elliott Hall of Music.
“If you take all that away, we would be removing that dynamism from our community’s identity and vocabulary,” Wetzel says. “Elliott Hall of Music has had a profound influence on shaping the energy of this university, as well as the Greater Lafayette community.”
A Purdue Convocations staff member for 36 years, Lois Harth recalls many important shows at Elliott over the years: the first show she saw there (a 1973 John Denver concert), the Iron Curtain intrigue of Russian pianist Emil Gilels in 1979, and a packed house for Elton John in 1980. “It was amazing,” Harth says of John’s show. “People were on their feet singing along, and you could tell they knew all the words.”
Harth’s words are the sort of testimony Steve Hall has come to expect.
“You see people entertained, challenged, motivated,” says Hall, who has worked at Elliott Hall of Music since 1981 and is now its director. “You see them driven in a way that they weren’t before. That’s pretty significant.”
“In the 30 years I’ve been here, I’ve seen the difference this facility can make. I see the life it breathes into the University’s day-to-day business. Without it, Purdue would be such a barren place.”
In all, Elliott Hall of Music isn’t just a remarkable facility. For 75 years, and counting, it has represented Purdue’s conversation about the power of cre- ative human expression, the exchange of ideas, the triumph of virtuosity, the meaning of shared experiences, and the value of intellectual achievement. That some of the world’s greatest talents and thinkers have crossed its stage— whether to make an entrance or receive a diploma—is no small tribute to the vision of the building’s namesake. That’s a performance worthy of a standing ovation.