An architectural rendering of the new Hill Hall Rotunda looking east. (photo courtesy of Quinn Evans Architects)
An architectural rendering of the new Hill Hall Rotunda looking east. (image courtesy of Quinn Evans Architects)

Hill Hall, the historic heart of the music department in the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill, will close in early June to begin an expected 18-month, $15 million renovation.

Work will center on improvements to Hill Hall’s rotunda and 450-seat auditorium in the century-old building, which served as the University’s first library. The performance space will be renamed the James and Susan Moeser Auditorium in honor of the former chancellor and his wife, who are organists and teachers at Carolina.

The renovation uses no state-appropriated funding. A $5 million gift from the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust kick-started the project. The Office of the Provost provided an additional $5 million. The College has already raised nearly $3 million of the remaining $5 million in a fundraising campaign.

Appearing at a recent "closing ceremony" for Hill Hall were from left, Dean Karen Gil, Tom Kenan, Susan and James Moeser, Louise Toppin and Douglas Zinn, executive director of the Kenan Trust. (photo by Kristen Chavez)
Appearing at a recent “closing ceremony” for Hill Hall were from left, Dean Karen Gil, Tom Kenan, Susan and James Moeser, Louise Toppin and Douglas C. Zinn. (photo by Kristen Chavez)

The extensive upgrades for the auditorium include adding a climate control system, state-of-the-art acoustical treatments, a professional-grade stage, and equipment and piano lift. Currently, the auditorium has no air conditioning, rendering the space essentially unusable four to five months of the year.

The dated two-story rotunda will be transformed into an expanded, light-filled space suitable for receptions, intimate performances and as a central gathering space for the department. An enhanced backstage area with updated dressing rooms and storage, improved lighting and modernized administrative and teaching spaces adjacent to the rotunda will complete the renovations.

“We will be returning here to celebrate the reopening during the 2016-17 academic year with a state-of-the-art teaching and performance space befitting the world-class music program that we have at Carolina,” said Karen Gil, dean of the College, at a May ceremony to mark the beginning of the renovation.

Louise Toppin, chair of the music department, said the renovation will also provide recording facilities capable of capturing student, faculty and guest artists’ performances, and opportunities to partner with Carolina Performing Arts on innovative recital performances.

“In preparation for the renovation, we have accelerated the packing and storing of the contents of the building,” she said. “On June 5, demolition begins.”

The new performance space will be renamed the James and Susan Moeser Auditorium in honor of the former chancellor and his wife, who are organists and teachers at Carolina. (photo by Kristen Chavez)
The new performance space will be renamed the James and Susan Moeser Auditorium in honor of the former chancellor and his wife, who are organists and teachers at Carolina. (photo by Kristen Chavez)

The cornerstone for the original building, funded with a $55,000 grant by Andrew Carnegie, was laid in 1907. It served as the University’s first consolidated library and in 1918-19, it was the headquarters of Carolina Playmakers when Thomas Wolfe was a member. The music department moved to the building in 1930, and it was renamed Hill Hall for John Sprunt Hill, a UNC alumnus, and his family. Hill funded the construction of the auditorium and the purchase of a pipe organ, now gone, for the space.

Over the decades, Hill Hall has hosted such luminaries as Joan Baez, Alan Bergman, David Gergen, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Yo-Yo Ma, Jessye Norman and Fredrica von Stade.

By Geneva Collins, College of Arts and Sciences

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