From Breaking Ground to Ground Breaking: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

Thursday, September 1: 12 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Pete Townshend at June, 7, 1993 groundbreaking ceremony.

In September 1995, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum opened its doors in Cleveland. It was a dream more than a decade in the making and one that continues to grow as the Hall prepares to open its Library and Archives in 2012, advancing its mission to educate visitors, fans and scholars from around the world about the history and continuing significance of rock and roll music.

The Hall of Fame and Museum was the brainchild of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, the nonprofit organization launched in 1983 and led by Atlantic Records Founder and Chairman Ahmet Ertegun, along with Rolling Stone magazine publisher Jann Wenner, attorney Allen Grubman, manager Jon Landau, record executives Seymour Stein and Bob Krasnow, and attorney Suzan Evans. The group sought to establish an organization that recognized "the people who have created this music which has become the most popular music of our time.”

Officials from Cleveland and the State of Ohio approached the Foundation in 1985 and suggested the construction of a major museum. For more than a year, the Foundation considered Cleveland and numerous other cities, including New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Francisco, Memphis and Chicago. As the board toured potential sites, Cleveland emerged first in a USA Today poll that asked where the Hall of Fame should be located. In May of 1986, the decision was made: Cleveland would be home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Musuem (pictured left: Mayor George Voinovich at May 5, 1986 announcement). The choice was fitting. Besides being the place where Alan Freed popularized the term "rock and roll" on his pioneering radio show and groundbreaking early rock and roll concerts, Cleveland has served as a springboard to success for rock artists as diverse as Chuck Berry (who made his first public appearance here) to David Bowie (who made his U.S. debut here) to Elvis Presley (who played his first concert north of the Mason-Dixon line in Cleveland).

Designing the world's first museum dedicated to rock and roll was entrusted to world-renowned architect I.M. Pei, and on June 7, 1993, ground was broken for the Museum in Cleveland. Pei and various board members, including Ahmet Ertegun, Suzan Evans and Jann Wenner were on hand, as well as Chuck Berry, Ruth Brown, Carl Gardner (of the Coasters), Billy Joel, Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave), Sam Phillips, Dave Pirner (of Soul Asylum) and Pete Townshend (of the Who), who made one of the museum’s significant donations on this occasion – his Gibson J-200 guitar used to compose Tommy, including the classic “Pinball Wizard."

On September 1, 1995, after 12 years in the making, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum opened with a full schedule of events. The opening day celebration (pictured below) began with a playful parade through the streets of Cleveland, followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of the Museum. Present for the ceremony were Pei, Ertegun, Wenner, Evans, Ohio Governor George Voinovich, Cleveland Mayor Michael White, Little Richard and Yoko Ono, who donated a major collection of John Lennon artifacts – Lennon’s guitar from the 1965 Beatles concert at Shea Stadium, a pair of eyeglasses and the leather jacket Lennon wore while in Hamburg – to the Museum. 

The Museum officially opened to the public on Saturday, September 2, which kicked off with a ceremony presenting the Ahmet M. Ertegun Exhibition Hall, the Museum’s main exhibit space named in recognition of the founder of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The evening culminated with a benefit concert at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. An incredible roster of rock and roll greats performed, including Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Al Green, Jerry Lee Lewis, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, the Pretenders, John Fogerty, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, George Clinton, the Kinks, John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, Booker T. and the MGs, Eric Burdon and Martha Reeves. 

Since the Museum’s opening, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum has welcomed more than eight million visitors from around the world and reaches more than 50,000 students and educators each year through its education programs on site and across the globe. Slated to open in early 2012, the Museum's Library and Archives will occupy more than 22,000 square feet at the Center For Creative Arts on Cuyahoga Community College's Metropolitan Campus in Downtown Cleveland. The LEED-certified green building will be the world's premier research collection of written and audiovisual materials relating to the history of rock and roll. The facility will have two distinct functions and both are open to the public: the library that will house books, dissertations, periodicals, and sound and video recordings; and the Archives that will store rare and unique materials in a variety of mediums. 

Wenner captured the essence of the Hall in the forward to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: The First 25 Years: "In the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, we collect – before they are lost – the artifacts, documents, images, and work of the kings and queens of rock & roll and the god fathers of soul. Those collections serve to remind us of the power of innocence, rebellion, and youth, as well as the value of maturity, growth, and perspective, because both young and old have a place in this building."

View a photographic timeline following the birth of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum here!



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