NORMAN — Among the University of Oklahoma’s most recognizable communal facilities as well as one of the state’s most historic buildings, Holmberg Hall celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2018.
Built in 1918 and first named The Auditorium, it was renamed Holmberg Hall in 1938 in honor of Fredrik Holmberg (1872-1936), distinguished professor of music and first dean of the College of Fine Arts. Holmberg was a steadfast advocate for fine arts education at OU and throughout the state.
“Holmberg Hall is more than just a building—it is an Oklahoma treasure and a monument to the importance of fine arts,” said OU President David L. Boren. “It also holds great personal significance to me. From debate tournaments in my student years to major announcements about my tenure at OU, Holmberg Hall has been a special venue to me throughout my life.”
In 2005, under Boren’s leadership, the building underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation funded principally by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. The original building, with the addition of a new dance wing, renovated practice rooms and restoration of the performance hall, was then renamed the Donald W. Reynolds Performing Arts Center.
The iconic building known commonly as Historic Holmberg Hall has been recognized as one of the top 15 among the 50 most beautiful conservatories and Schools of Music in the nation. The hall stands prominently over Parrington Oval in an architecture style known as Cherokee Gothic, a term coined by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright when he visited the campus. The design reflects classic gothic architecture mixed with influences from the American Indian tribes of Oklahoma.
Turreted towers and medieval wooden doorways greet patrons. Crimson carpet and cream walls sweep through the lobby with statues, paintings and unique photographs that showcase the impressive history of the building. A colorful mural anchors the lobby and includes an expansive frieze depicting a number of the distinguished guests to have visited the historic hall.
Holmberg Hall has hosted some of the state’s most memorable events and well known visitors, including President William Howard Taft, piano virtuoso Van Cliburn, jazz legend Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, American violinist Isaac Stern, legendary mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, interpretive storyteller Te Ata Fisher and modern dancer Martha Graham.
Additionally, several of the university’s landmark events occurred in Holmberg Hall, including OU football Coach Bud Wilkinson’s national trophy presentation as well as then-U.S. Senator David L. Boren’s acceptance speech for the OU presidency in 1994. More recently, in September 2017, Boren also selected this stage for announcing his plans to retire as president after serving the university for more than 23 years.
The building’s showpiece is Oklahoma’s only European-style performance hall. With a 677-seat capacity, the venue was restored to its original design in 2005, including the domed ceiling. Modern acoustical features were added in addition to a new stage tower, orchestra pit and renovated stage areas.
"Holmberg Hall has seen literally thousands of students launch their careers during their years at OU,” said Mary Margaret Holt, dean of the Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts. “From those who have gone on to perform in Broadway musicals and national tours to countless others performing in professional theatres, dance companies and orchestras as well as graduates who have become professional designers and technicians, all have benefitted from the opportunity to work in this exceptional OU landmark. Under President Boren's leadership, the renovation to the hall in 2005 ensured that it will continue to serve the arts, our university and central Oklahoma communities, and our students with its state of the art technology, beauty and tradition."
Today, the performance hall continues to host many facets of the fine arts at OU, where student performers enhance their talents in concerts, opera, musical theatre, drama and dance productions before often going on to perform professionally throughout the nation and around the world.