What’s new – and old – at West Seattle’s one-of-a-kind Kenyon Hall

Among your many entertainment options on tonight’s West Seattle Weekend Lineup: Two “classic silent comedies” accompanied (with ragtime!) by Donald Sosin at Kenyon Hall (interior photo above). If you aren’t well-acquainted with that venue, time to fix that. We revisited the historic building (on 35th just south of Kenyon – here’s a map) recently to talk with manager Lou Magor and find what’s new – read on!

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Nothing in West Seattle rocks the house like the organ at Kenyon Hall.

Sure, WS-residing legend Eddie Vedder rocked KH in one way during his world-famous semi-secret tour-tuneup shows there last March.

But rock ‘n’ roll is no match for the circa-1929 Mighty Wurlitzer – which has pipes and vents filling the hall – and even in a somewhat quiet mode, as demonstrated in this video clip, can be incredibly impressive:

At the keyboard, Kenyon Hall manager Lou Magor, who is quick to qualify, he’s not “THE organist.” He is an accomplished pianist, with regular gigs including the every-Tuesday KH rehearsals of Seattle’s renowned Total Experience Gospel Choir, which performed there last March for a special series of Hurricane Katrina fundraising events; our report featured video including this clip of TE leader Pat Wright, singing “Amazing Grace” accompanied by Lou, by audience request:

The work he does with the choir is a labor of love (as is theirs), with all performance proceeds “going to help poor people.” The choir also is part of Seattle Artists, the nonprofit that runs Kenyon Hall (with an 8-member board), as is another performing group that appears there from time to time, the Ballard Sedentary Sousa Band.

“It’s all about preserving music history,” explains Lou. “That’s what we’re about.” Kenyon itself has history, built in 1916 (same year, Lou notes, as his home in Admiral) – this photo from its past life as the Olympic Heights Social Hall is on the wall in the entrance hallway:

“Aside from the addition of the organ, it hasn’t changed much,” Lou says, as an understatement, given that the organ and its many pipes seem to stretch to almost every nook, cranny, and wall area around the hall’s interior – this section is in back of the expansive room:

The organ has “17 ranks,” Lou explains, and is so renowned that Kenyon Hall will be one of the venues for the American Theater Organ Societys 2010 convention in Seattle. (Read more about the KH organ’s history at the PSTOS website.) It’s played most often, he says by Bob White, described by Lou as “a genius — he keeps it in such good shape.” It’s been at Kenyon Hall for a decade now, brought in after years of showing silent movies with piano accompaniment. Then, he says, “an organ became available and we ended up getting it and installing it. … We play it at every show, or else people will drive us crazy (asking to hear it),” regardless of what kind of show is happening.

Words and even pictures can’t really do justice to Kenyon Hall – you have to see it for yourself, as do 90 families who are part of Kindermusik programs there each week (during the school year), taught by Lou. (Kindermusik is for kids birth to 7 years old, a participatory program that immerses them in music, rhythm, and movement before they get to be old enough to risk losing the wonder of it all.) Kindermusik is taught in other venues around West Seattle and the rest of the city, but none quite like this: “It’s fun to walk in and see what’s here … kids do a lot of pointing.” And it’s not Lou’s only teaching gig; he also leads music classes at West Seattle’s Tilden School.

Along with music classes and “occasional performances” (like tonight’s silent-movies-with-accompaniment), Kenyon Hall is also a rental venue – too small for some weddings and parties, Lou says, but for many, just right. In a few weeks, he adds, it will even host a memorial service “for a guy who had a big party here 10 years ago.” The aforementioned Eddie Vedder shows last year were among the biggest parties of all, though … and Lou wasn’t even in attendance; he was “building a house in Mississippi” at the time, but Matt from Easy Street Records, which partnered to organize the semi-hush-hush shows, told Lou, “Tomorrow, Kenyon Hall’s going to be famous,” and indeed, its name was all over the Web (including here). “He was a charming, generous gentleman,” Lou says of Vedder, “lovely to deal with.”

Why Kenyon Hall, for a show like that? Its acoustics are more amazing than you might imagine, given that it’s just steps off the busy West Seattle street whose critics call it “I-35.” It’s well-insulated enough that once you’re in the center of the hall, you can’t hear a thing.

Now, the future: Kenyon Hall needs a little love to stay in good shape – especially with its centennial coming up next decade (“fun to plan things like that,” Lou grins). The hall has a new roof; but it needs a “plumbing, kitchen, bathroom makeover,” he says. And that will require some kind of capital campaign, which he says he’s been hinting at during Kenyon Hall shows, prefacing it, he laughs, with “Let’s have some potty talk.”

And the organ never seems to stop growing. “It’s like ivy,” Lou smiles, “it just keeps taking over.” When you next go to Kenyon Hall, take a close look all around the room, even in the back, and behind the stage – it’s got extensions everywhere – hard to tell what’s part of it and what’s not; you might say it’s become organic.

And when it’s played, you can feel the room quiver.

Kenyon Hall is online, of course, at kenyonhall.org, but first word of upcoming shows always comes via its e-mail list, so we’d recommend joining that (it’s already more than 2,700 names strong!) – just send a note to kenyonhall@earthlink.net and ask to be added to the list. Or – leave your e-mail address if you go to tonight’s show.

7 Replies to "What's new - and old - at West Seattle's one-of-a-kind Kenyon Hall"

  • Celeste17 January 24, 2009 (2:25 pm)

    Where did you acquire the organ? It sure is beautiful and I can’t wait until I can come to a show.

  • WSB January 24, 2009 (2:28 pm)

    I should have included this link – I will add it to the story – background, from the Puget Sound Theater Organ Society website (note that the facility used to be called Hokum Hall so that’s why you see a photo there with that sign):

  • Julie January 24, 2009 (4:48 pm)

    Kenyon Hall is, indeed, a unique neighborhood treasure. (We’re lucky, also, to have Lou!) I know Lou realizes he can count on this community to step up and do what needs doing for the Hall. Count me in!

  • celeste17 January 25, 2009 (12:43 am)

    When I was growing up there was the Granda Theater just outside the junction (condo’s there now). And I wonder what happened to the organ they had there.

  • LyndaB January 25, 2009 (1:27 am)

    wow, i was wanting to attend a silent movie at the paramount. i hadn’t known about this in my very own backyard! i’ll certainly will keep an eye out next time!

  • WSB January 25, 2009 (1:40 am)

    Celeste – looks like that same site has some history on the Granada –
    What an amazing slice of West Seattle history.
    I knew there was a “Granada Theater” but had no idea about the “Organ Loft” coda to its life.
    And now I realize why the condo/retail building on that site is called “The Granada.” Of course. – TR

  • Kelly K January 25, 2009 (8:58 pm)

    Kenyon Hall is a fantastic venue! I’m lucky enough to live just a few blocks away and my husband and I have had several lovely date nights to watch black and white films, listen to great comedy and go dancing. I’m always surprised there aren’t more people there–come check it out, West Seattle!

Sorry, comment time is over.