History of Aeolian Hall
The Early Years
The story of the Aeolian Hall begins in 1882. The London East Town Council bought a plot of land from David E. Glass, former mayor of London. The Council then authorized the expenditure of $7,000 towards the construction of a town hall, in the hope of thwarting any attempt at annexation by the City of London.
The renowned architect George F. Durand designed the building. It is a combination of High Victorian and Italianate design, a masterpiece of tall traceried windows and biochromatic brickwork. Construction took place between September 1883 and June 1884. The project went over-budget by double the original estimate. A year later (1885) East London found itself in severe financial trouble and was forced to amalgamate with the City of London. The building has served a number of intriguing purposes over the decades.
Upon amalgamation with the City of London, the main floor of the building was converted into Fire Station No. 2 (until the station was moved to Florence Street in 1946) while also serving as the Ninth Divisional Court in the 1880’s and 1890’s.
From 1888 to 1890 the hall was also home to a public school. In 1901, Samuel Francis Wood had a workshop at the Hall and later became president of the Hobbs Hardware Company and the Hobbs Manufacturing Company.
Turn of the Century
Around the turn of the twentieth century many outdoor concerts and plays were held in the evenings on stages and in tents behind the building. Such events were often sponsored by traveling herb doctors, who would hawk their so-called “cure-all” medicines to the audience.
On December 23, 1915 the London Public Library opened the East End Branch – the first branch location for the library – on the ground floor. The Oddfellows Lodge held its meetings on the second floor and Mrs. Reuben Short was the Noble Grand of its Rebecca lodge sometime during the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Goodwill Industries of London occupied part of the main floor from 1945 to 1947 with Margaret Glass as director.
After Fire Station No. 2 was moved to its new location the City of London sold the East End Town Hall to the National Appliance Limited, who in turn sold it to Imperial Fuels Ltd in 1954.
The hall was also home to the London School of Telegraphy. In 1949 the school ran an ad in the city directory promoting: “Classes in telegraphy and railway clerks graduate in five months into interesting, profitable, lifetime employment.”
For 32 years (1950-1982) Frank C. Warder Radio Limited occupied this site, offering sales and services for radios, refrigerators and washers. Eventually the line of products also included closed circuit televisions, intercommunication systems, telephone systems, mobile systems, sound systems and televisions.
Enter Gordon Jeffery
In 1947, Gordon D. Jeffery purchased the First Congregational Church (later Beecher United Church) and refurbished it as a concert hall renamed Aeolian Hall. Jeffery was among the first individuals in London to promote local chamber music.
The term “Aeolian” comes from the Aeolian Islands found northeast of Sicily. The root of the word is derived from the god Aeolus (keeper of the winds, son of the god Hippotas). Aeolian is also a technical music term associated with a number of organ, piano and player piano manufacturing companies. There was an Aeolian Hall in London, England (which opened in 1904) and an Aeolian Hall in New York City as well.
On May 20, 1968, the Aeolian Hall was destroyed by arson. (The London Tower, a heritage site located at 379 Dundas Street, is all that remains of the original building.)
In 1968, Jeffery purchased the former London East Town Hall for $42,000 as a temporary headquarters until the original could be rebuilt. In 1969, the old town hall was refurbished as a fully equipped musical performance center. To improve the acoustic of the Hall, the original ceiling – which was fastened to the base of the dark beams – was removed. The original stage was raked, but the orchestra pit was added in hopes of staging small operas and musicals.
On opening night in September 1969, Jeffery conducted the Aeolian Town Hall Orchestra in a program of three Brandenburg Concerti and the Violin Concerto in E Major by Bach.
On October 12, 1972, the Historic Sites Committee of the London Public Library Board unveiled its thirteenth plaque at the Hall. In March 1977, Jeffery abandoned his plan of rebuilding the original Aeolian Hall. Later that year the new Aeolian Town Hall hosted Theatre London which performed a reduced playbill under the directorship of William Hutt for its 1977-78 season while the Grand Theatre was being renovated. In 1989 the Forest City Gallery – the oldest artist-run gallery in the London region – also moved into the building.
Gordon Jeffery died in 1986 leaving the Gordon Jeffery Trust to oversee and maintain the Aeolian as a musical venue for London. The Trust was nearing the end of its mandate in 2003 and decided to put the building up for sale.
Mr. Clark Bryan, concert pianist, bought the Hall in July 2004 and expanded its mandate to include multi-genre music and art presentation as well as community events. In 2009, Bryan shifted the governance of The Aeolian to a Registered Charity/Non-Profit Corporation called The Aeolian Hall Musical Arts Association. Mr. Bryan transferred ownership of the building to this charity in February 2011 to ensure its future in the Public Trust.
The Aeolian Hall Musical Arts Association (AHMAA)
The Aeolian Town Hall is currently the home the Aeolian School of Music and Aeolian Hall. It has twice been awarded “Best Live Venue” at the Jack Richardson Music Awards, and has been selected as one of the Top 10 Halls in Canada by the CBC Radio 3 Searchlight Contest. In 2010, The Aeolian was given a Pillar Award by The Mayor of London for outstanding Community Contribution. The Aeolian Hall has become a centre for research and development of arts programs with focus on social justice, social inclusion, and community development.