The Hall was built in 1871 by Elbridge Boyden and is one of the earliest and finest examples of High Victorian Gothic architecture anywhere in the country. Borrowing heavily from German and Italian Gothic Styles, Boyden created a remarkable structure. He contrasted the rose colored brick with light Ohio sandstone to define the pointed Gothic arches that frame the doors and windows and he used horizontal bands of this sandstone to unify the entire building. Inside, two walnut and ash staircases lead upstairs to the main theatre. The ceiling of this awe-inspiring room is forty-five feet above the floor. The balcony, which when in use, can seat two hundred, wraps around three sides of the auditorium. All of the supports that define the balcony and the ceiling beams feature gothic arches that echo those in the tall, abstract, Tiffany-inspired, stained-glass windows which dominate the room. The majestic bell tower, which is the tallest structure in Saratoga Springs, houses a 3,000 pound Meneely bell cast in nearby Troy, New York.
Originally constructed for the Methodist church to host their annual regional meeting – the Hall has hosted such luminaries as William Jennings Bryan, Henry Ward Beecher, Frederick Douglass, Senator Edgar T. Brackett and President William Howard Taft amongst others. In 1976 the Methodists sold the building to the Universal Baptist Church, who inhabited it until the building’s deteriorating state made it unsafe. In 1999 citizens of Saratoga Springs joined with members of the Baptist Church to rescue the Universal Preservation Hall from collapse. They formed a partnership to rebuild the building as a performance and events center while also creating separate worship space for the Baptists within the building. This relationship between a religious group and a secular arts organization is unique and will hopefully serve as a model for other groups hoping to restore and adapt worship spaces as arts venues. The new sanctuary for the Baptist Church was completed in 2004 and services are held there every Sunday.
Since the reconstruction began the hall has received generous donations from local individuals including a $1,000,000 gift from an anonymous donor to kick off the reconstruction. The Hall has also received support from The Landmarks Conservancy, the State of New York, the City of Saratoga Springs, the Adirondack Trust Company, The Swyer Foundation, The Universal Baptist Church, and The Saratoga Foundation. In 2006, Universal Preservation Hall was named an “Official Project” of Save America’s Treasures and received nearly $200,000 from the U.S. Federal Government.
Spearheaded by Jeff Pfeil, Tom Lewis, and Reverend Dr. Minnie Burns, repairs began in earnest in 2003. The wooden beams, which had almost completely failed due to water damage have been replaced with new steel structure. The floor of the balcony has been rebuilt. The ceiling supports in the main auditorium have been reconstructed using nineteenth century techniques and tools. Over two tons of waste have been removed from the building. Repairs continue to be ongoing though the Hall is open for rentals.