Steinert Hall: The Secret Antique Symphonic Theater Hidden Under A Piano Shop
Cue The Phantom of the Opera: This is the story of a real-life hidden concert hall, tucked deep underground and forgotten beneath the bustling street above. But this secret symphonic stage is closer than the catacombs of Paris. It is, in fact, one of the well-guarded secrets of Boston. Let's journey back through time and down about 40 feet to rediscover the splendor of the Steinert Hall, Boston's own subterranean music venue.
An Unassuming Piano Store
Steinert Hall can only be accessed through a nondescript storefront on Boylston Street in Boston. That is the home of M.S. Steinert & Sons, a piano store that was founded in 1860 by an immigrant from Bavaria named Morris Steinert who had come to Boston via Ellis Island a decade earlier with his two eldest sons. The original store was moved to its present location on Boylston Street in 1896 when Steinert's second-oldest son, Alexander, worked with architects to build a six-story brick and limestone building. That wasn't the end of Alexander Steinert's building projects.
"The Headquarters for the Musical World of Cultured Boston"
The piano shop attracted many of the musical elite of Boston. To keep the flow of customers coming through the doors of the piano store, Alexander Steinert commissioned the construction of a lavish concert hall with seating for up to 650 people, ordering it to be built not in the store but beneath it. The streets of Boston were noisy, and the younger Steinert knew that the only way to completely block out the commotion was to go underground. Steinert Hall, built in the Italian Renaissance style, offered musicians a one-of-a-kind acoustic performance experience.
A Concert Hall Like No Other
To get to Steinert Hall, patrons had to enter the store and then go down four flights of stairs. Once they arrived at the bottom, audience members and musicians were greeted with a stunning venue like no other. Round arches, great columns, detailed frescos, and fluted pilasters gave the space the look and feel of an old-world, European concert hall.
Great Musicians Graced the Stage
The M.S. Steinert & Sons store was located in a part of the theater district known as "piano row," which meant that the area was frequented by members of Boston's musical elite. As Alexander Steinert had hoped, the concert hall conveniently brought these coveted customers through the store on a regular basis. By the early 1910s, Steinert Hall had established a reputation for being a mecca for Boston-area musicians. Many great performers graced the stage of Steinert Hall, including Josef Hofmann, Fritz Kreisler, and Harold Bauer.
For almost 50 years, Steinert Hall was a proud addition to the cultural vibe of Boston. And then, tragedy struck.
The Cocoanut Grove Fire of 1942
In the 1930s and 1940s, the Cocoanut Grove nightclub was Boston's most popular dance club. On the night of November 28, 1942, the club was packed with several hundred people beyond its capacity when a fire broke out. Panicked patrons stampeded for the only door, causing a bottleneck as the fire quickly spread. In all, 492 people died in the blaze, and hundreds more were injured. In the wake of the tragedy, building codes were tightened. Specifically, venues had to have multiple exits in case of fire. The underground Steinert Hall was not up to code.
Closing the Venue
The members of the Steinert family looked into ways to bring the Steinert Hall into code compliance, but the challenges of building additional exits into a venue that was four stories underground was too much, and Steinert Hall was closed in 1942. As the years passed, folks in Boston forgot about the subterranean concert hall. For the better part of a century, the only activity that the venue saw was occasional use as a storage room for the piano store.
Rediscovering Steinert Hall
Until recently, modern people in the Boston area had heard rumors of a lavish underground auditorium somewhere beneath the streets of the city, but this was mostly viewed as an urban legend. Greig Lamont, a writer who maintains a blog called A Project in Ruins, decided to dig deeper into these old rumors and uncovered news articles about the underground concert hall. He is credited with confirming that it actually existed and finding it still there, right under Boston's most popular piano store. He gained exclusive permission to see the space and published an article about the long-forgotten venue in 2011.
A Venue in Disrepair ... and a Hopeful Future
The years had not been kind to the Steinert Hall. Most of the seating was removed and donated to a local high school auditorium. Along with the dirt, dust, and cobwebs, there was extensive water damage in the hall. As news of the subterranean concert hall spread, public interest in the space resurged, but it comes at a high cost. By most estimates, it will take $6 million or more to fully renovate the hall and bring it up to current code. Plans are currently underway to raise the needed funds and do the repairs with the hopes of bringing music back to the long-silent stage of Steinert Hall.