Washington Hall, built in 1908 and a gathering place for various ethnic groups over the years, is being renovated by Historic Seattle and opens again to the public this weekend with a free open house featuring musical performances.

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The stairs creak, the dance floor is scuffed and there are cracks in the ceiling and walls, but for Lori Larsen, Washington Hall is more than just a century-old building in the Central District.

It epitomizes “hyggelig,” a Danish word meaning “cozy.” Her grandparents met there when it was a Danish community hall, her parents married there and her grandmother, her mother and she herself performed the same play in that same building, each at the age of 36.

“We would always go to Washington Hall. The kids would disappear, run up and down the second floor. It was a giant playhouse. The old men would smoke cigars and play cribbage, while my grandmother, downstairs, would be making cheese sandwiches,” said Larsen, 60.

This weekend, Washington Hall opens again for the public, after Historic Seattle bought it for renovation. The free open house features performances — accordion, jazz, hip-hop and excerpts from Larsen’s play, a popular Danish love story called “En Søndag paa Amager” (“A Sunday on Amager”).

“It’s a celebration of the fact that the hall has been brought back from the brink and is ready to open its doors again,” said Kathleen Brooker, Historic Seattle’s Executive Director. “We want the community to get back inside to think about its future as well as its past.”

Washington Hall was built at 14th Avenue and Fir Street in 1908 by the Danish Brotherhood in America as a lodging house for new male immigrants. In 1973, it was bought by an African-American Masonic lodge called the Sons and Daughters of Haiti. Throughout its history, it sheltered immigrants from Denmark, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Brazil. Martin Luther King Jr. and W.E.B. Du Bois spoke there, and artists like Duke Ellington, Jimi Hendrix and Billie Holiday played there. It served as the original home of On the Boards, a presenter of contemporary performance now at the base of Queen Anne Hill, and now St. Michael Ethiopian Orthodox Church holds it services there.

“It’s brought out the best in everyone,” said Brooker. “I went to the landmark hearing for this building, almost a year ago, and saw people I’ve never seen before, stand up and talk about their strong attachment to Washington Hall … It’s kind of like our Ellis Island. So many ethnic groups that have come through Washington have met there and have gotten integrated into Seattle there.”

Washington Hall was accordion player Richard Svensson’s first paid gig. It was 1962, a year after he immigrated from Sweden, and partygoers wanted authentic Scandinavian music. He played from his gut, he says, off his upbringing rather than from sheet music.

Svensson, 86, is happy to come full circle. He plans on playing two pieces this weekend — a Swedish and a Norwegian waltz.

Choreographer Dayna Hanson, a 2006 Guggenheim fellow, also had her start as a performer in the hall.

“The prospect of getting back in there, using it as a creative space where performances will happen again is really exciting to me,” said Hanson, 46. “It was such a lovable building.”

About $600,000 has been plunged into the hall to fix the roof, heating and bathrooms. Millions more in renovations are planned, too, but Historic Seattle wants the public to first take a look and consider future uses.

Meanwhile, Larsen plans to present “Amager” again at the hall. Next year marks 75 years since her grandmother played the main character, but this time, instead of starring, Larsen will direct.

“It had such good memories,” said Larsen.

Marian Liu: 206-464-3825 or mliu@seattletimes.com