Evening rush hour is barely winding down on Texas Avenue when a traffic cop walks into the street to stop cars. It’s to give room to a semi-truck backing up to the loading dock of Jones Hall. Even with the trailer’s end against the building, it’s blocking four lanes of traffic.
When the George R. Fuller Company designed the building in the 1960s, the loading dock was made to accommodate 35 ft. trucks. Today, they are 53 ft. Since it jams traffic, loading or unloading can only be done during certain hours of the day.
That’s not the only nuisance, as discovered on a tour with Jones Hall’s General Manager Debra Justice. In the lower level, she points to a line of giant rolling gray dumpsters. There’s no place outside to put them.
“Who knows why they didn’t take into account, ‘What are you going to do with your garbage?’” Justice says.
Complaints about the actual performance space are also not uncommon. Some musicians aren’t fond of the ceiling’s moveable plates.
“They vibrate a lot,” says Houston Symphony Principal Trombonist Allen Barnhill. “In doing so, they extract some of the sound from the hall and send it up into the attic.”
Others have said that the hall is too big and sounds cavernous.
But perhaps the top complaint from concertgoers – mostly the females—is that there aren’t enough restrooms.
Even during a Sunday afternoon concert, where attendance is often lighter than evening performances, the wait time in line to the downstairs ladies’ room during intermission was about seven minutes. That leaves no time to grab a drink at the bar before heading back for the second half.
Catherine Tietjen has been coming to Jones Hall for years and says the small seats and narrow rows make her feel like she’s on an airplane. When she and her husband buy their seats, they usually choose ones toward the end of the row because there’s no center aisle in the orchestra level. That’s not a huge deal for people sitting in one of the shorter rows close to the stage, but the rest of the rows are between 40 and 50 seats long. “A couple times, we’ve had one of those seats in the very middle and you’re practically the last person out of the theater because there’s no other way out,” Tietjen says.
Despite the criticism, there’s a silver lining: There have been rumors of a renovation.
But how far along are the discussions?
“We’re well into it,” says Jones Hall Foundation Board Member Jim Postl. “We really looked across the entire country in terms of the best and brightest performing arts venues.”
Postl says they’ve enlisted New York-based Ennead Architects for the project. Before the cost can be determined, they have to complete the preliminary design. There have been a series of roundtable discussions to create a “wish list” of improvements.
“The thought is, how do we balance or combine the landmark nature of this iconic building, while at the same time ensuring that it has the newest technologies,” Postl says, adding that they plan to totally revamp the interior.
Of course, there are still plenty of details to be worked out. Where will the symphony and SPA have concerts while the hall is closed? How long will renovation take? And how much will it cost?
Postl says they’re working on those answers right now. By the beginning of 2017, they hope to announce Jones Hall’s legacy for the next 50 years.