It is USC’s most venerable performance hall, built in 1921.
Shuttered since last May, Bovard Auditorium has been brought back to artistic glory through a renovation that enhances the lighting and acoustics, triples the size of the lobby and adds a second-floor lobby for pre- and post-event receptions.
A formal rededication event takes place on March 7, when the President’s Distinguished Artist Series features cellist Lynn Harrell performing with the USC Thornton Symphony.
The makeover actually began nearly a decade ago, when the Office of Student Affairs recognized the need for extensive improvements in lighting, sound and other amenities, said Michael L. Jackson, vice president for student affairs.
The $10 million renovation, funded by the university as one of its capital plan projects, focused on the improvement of seating, handicapped accessibility, sight lines and acoustics, as well as the restoration of some of the significant architectural details of USC’s oldest performance space.
Overhauled from top to bottom, the remodeled facility features restored woodwork, a refinished ceiling and a more robust sound system, in addition to new carpeting, upholstery, lighting.
The new stage floor gleams and there’s a new curtain. The frosted-glass windows, which were covered over with fabric panels in the last renovation in 1979, have been opened up and lit for a more natural look.
Throughout the years, the auditorium has hosted a wide variety of events, including musical and legitimate theater, concerts, large lectures, high-profile speakers and touring shows.
The improvements focused on the priorities of the hall’s principal users: student organizations, USC College, the USC Thornton School of Music, the USC School of Theatre, the Office of Admissions and Office of Student Affairs.
Often Bovard is the first facility that new students experience when they attend welcoming ceremonies at orientation, said Jackson. “This space gives them a sense of the grandeur and awe of being a student at USC.”
To meet the priorities of the university community, university architect Jon Soffa said the project management team targeted improving the audience experience and public image of the facility, while still being able to accommodate a range of uses.
“It was the intent of the university to accomplish the improvements in a way that would enhance and build upon the architectural character of the hall,” said Soffa, “while at the same time giving it new life.”
“The user committee met with facilities management services and the architects and worked on various renovation plans for about four years,” Jackson said. “We needed an affordable plan that would address the most important needs for improvement.”
The plan was then presented to the president, provost and other senior vice presidents, and to the board of trustees for review and approval. “We continued to work closely with the university architect, facilities management staff, the outside architectural firm and the contractor,” said Jackson.
For Joe Singer, the director of performance venues for student affairs, a key component of the improvements should focus on comfort for the audience.
“The whole point was to get people to flow into the building, and to be able to find their seats easily,” Singer said. In addition to replacement of seats that had seen better days, more legroom is now available.
As part of the refitting, Bovard’s seating capacity has been reduced from 1,542 to 1,300 seats, and the control booths have been integrated into the audience.
“Before, there was a very large stage that came out to accommodate the USC Thornton Symphony and other ensembles,”
said Lars Hansen, executive director of USC’s Office of Cultural Relations.
But when a sole speaker was on stage, Hansen said, the space was overwhelming. Now there’s a more intimate ambience.
Included in the renovation are a dozen new seating spaces, along with companion seats reserved for wheelchair access on the orchestra level and two seating spaces with companion seats on the first balcony.
Instead of a traditional box office, the lobby has customer-friendly reception desks for will-call and ticket sales.
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” said Hansen. “There was no physical space to install a box-office window that functioned properly, so we created a reception counter like that in a five-star hotel.”
The lobby, which has tripled in size, also is equipped with a sound-and-light lock that will shut out exterior sound when the inside doors are closed.
“There’s a fine attention to detail that people will notice,” said Singer. “There will be a sense of grandeur they haven’t seen before.”
“Restoration and renovation efforts of historic buildings have made great strides over the last 20 years,” said Hansen. “There’s much more sensitivity to detail, to colors, to the intent of the original architect.”
The entire university community is looking forward to the new Bovard. “The Thornton Symphony is perhaps the best student orchestra in the country,” said Robert A. Cutietta, dean of the USC Thornton School of Music. “I look forward to having them perform in a quality hall, and I believe it will also enhance the overall experience for our audiences.”
The renovation will be a signal to outside groups that USC has great facilities on campus, added Scales, the former theater dean. “One of the things driving the renovation was to make it more functional for a wider range of productions,” he said.
The university hired outside professional experts, including the architectural firm Smith Group Inc., theatrical consultant Auerbach Associates and the acoustical consultant Kirkegaard Associates, Soffa said, to design the improvements. These consultants successfully executed work on USC’s Newman Recital Hall, as well as projects at other sites, such as Belle Wilber Thorne Hall at Occidental College and California Polytechnic State University’s Performing Arts Center.
Over the last five years, the university has also made improvements on Newman Hall and Bing Theatre.
“It’s always terrific when you can bring a building back to life,” said Hansen.