• Sad News: Chautauqua Amphitheater Demolition Complete

    September 16, 2016

    Interior view of the amphitheater.

    photo by: Stephen Davies

    Since its inception in 2012, our National Treasures program has been successful in saving, protecting, and reusing historic places across the country. However, in this time, we have also had a few hard-fought campaigns that have resulted in preservation losses.

    Unfortunately, one of those losses occurred just this week when the Chautauqua Institution completely demolished the beloved Chautauqua Amphitheater, simply to make way for a replica in its place. We are extremely sad to see images of the iconic structure's demolition, as the countless historic moments captured in the former venue are now lost forever.

    As WBFO stated in its coverage:

    "It's the end of an era at the Chautauqua Institution. Following a two-year legal fight, the 123-year-old Amphitheater has been demolished."

    While reflecting on this loss, we want to thank all of our coalition partners below for their tireless work on this campaign:

    • Committee to Preserve the Historic Chautauqua Amphitheater
    • Preservation League of New York State
    • Preservation Buffalo Niagara
    • The Campaign for Greater Buffalo
    • Landmark Society of Western New York
    • Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

    Even with an excellent track record in our National Treasures program to date, losses like these still sting. On the other hand, they also motivate us to fight even harder for the other 70+ sites we are working to protect for future generations.

  • Statement from Paul Goldberger on the Proposed Demolition of the Chautauqua Amphitheater

    August 20, 2015

    The arguments in favor of tearing down the Chautauqua Amphitheater and replacing it with a new version designed to look something like the old one usually include a complaint that preservationists—those of us who would rather see the old Amphitheater kept and used as the starting point for any renovations—are against change. It is as if preservationists were determined to tether Chautauqua to its past, blocking the administration’s earnest efforts to keep Chautauqua current. In my view, the argument for preservation is not that at all. It is not an attempt to maintain the status quo, but is rather an argument for managed change, for careful, measured, respectful change. As one who has spoken at the Amphitheater, I am as aware as anyone of the inadequacy of its facilities, and of how urgent some kind of update is. But we have not seen any convincing evidence that the only way the Amphitheater can be updated is to tear it down and start over.

    Why does it matter? Why not just start over? Isn’t that fresher and more exciting? After all, Chautauqua has changed and evolved over the generations, and why freeze it now? Lewis Mumford, perhaps the greatest architecture critic of the twentieth century, wrote “In a city, time becomes visible,” and those six words tell us everything about why preservation matters, and what its goals should be. Chautauqua is a kind of city, for all its tranquility and rustic beauty, since it is a place in which multiple buildings come together to make a place that is larger and more complex and more meaningful than anything any of them could be on their own. And we know that the visibility of time is one of the most important things about Chautauqua — the sense that the setting may evolve, but it does not change dramatically, that it is a place in which we can expect that the elements that give it meaning will not change, but will be a backdrop for all kinds of new events and new encounters. The people and the ideas change constantly, but it is the continuity of their setting that gives what they say and what they do much of its meaning. It is the continuity of the setting that is fundamental to the experience of Chautauqua, and which, paradoxically, allows it to be a place that is safe and hospitable to new ideas. The very fact that a conversation is taking place at Chautauqua and not somewhere else gives it a degree of resonance.

    I once heard a very simple but wonderfully poetic phrase, “the ever continuing past,” and that says it perfectly, since it suggests a past that is not only visible but has an ongoing life that in some meaningful way connects to the present: a living past, you might say. Here, there is absolute relevance to Chautauqua, since in a place with an ever continuing past, the past is not something sealed off to look at, and then we go back to the rest of our lives. It is a place in which the past helps to define the present, and in so doing it continues to evolve. The meaning of the past changes as each age uses it differently, views it differently, interprets it differently. In an ever continuing past, old buildings have a meaningful duty not solely to remind us of the past, but to enrich the present. I have always thought of Chautauqua as embodying the idea of the ever continuing past. But intrinsic to this idea is the notion that a place changes through evolution, not revolution.

    There is something off-putting about a place that is entirely new. It may excite you for a moment, but you rapidly sense the absence of history. The heart of a place like Chautauqua — which is to say the Amp — needs to feel like it began long before you and will go on long after you. It should have a patina. It should have gravitas. It almost goes without saying that another reason to oppose the current plan is that the replacement version of the Amp is so lacking in the very gravitas that the current Amp, for all its admitted funkiness, has earned through the generations. It strikes me as a mediocre and banal attempt to copy the Amp in the most superficial way, and it seems not to have any of the Amp's hard-earned authenticity. When I referred to the Amphitheater as having a unique combination of funkiness and monumentality, I was talking about a quality that cannot be consciously replicated, and that will surely be lost if the present structure is destroyed.

    I know as well as anyone that places cannot and should not remain static. Places that do not grow and change invariably die; change is what keeps a place, and an institution, alive. But I have not yet seen the evidence that change and evolution cannot come to the Amphitheater without tearing it down and starting from scratch. It seems to me as if Chautauqua has an opportunity here to show that it is a place where the layers of time sit comfortably together. In the proposed new Amp, there will not be layers of time, but a false past standing on its own in place of a real and resonant one. That is not what Mumford meant when he talked of time being visible.

    Join our campaign! Sign our petition urging the Chautauqua Institution's Board of Trustees to take the time needed to develop a preservation-based rehabilitation plan befitting of this National Treasure.

  • FAQ: Campaign to Save the Amp

    June 5, 2015

    What is the Chautauqua Institution proposing?

    The Chautauqua Institution is planning to demolish its historic Amphitheater to make way for a replica with updated amenities. Under the current plan, every character-defining element of the structure except for its organ loft and the Massey Organ would be lost, including the scale and depth of the Amphitheater, the ceiling, roof, benches, outdoor bleachers, and back porch.

    Wasn’t this supposed to be a rehabilitation project? Why is demolition being considered?

    Throughout the planning process, the Institution referred to the Amp improvements as an "historic rehabilitation project.” And through last October, the Institution's website called the project a “rehabilitation.” It was not until November 14, 2014, that the Institution’s President, Thomas Becker, admitted a lapse in communication had occurred and stated that the project is actually a demolition and reconstruction.

    Haven’t changes already been made to the Amp over the years?

    Yes, and the Amp is certainly in need of some upgrades and improvements today. All buildings need to be cared for and maintained over time. In the past, the changes that were made to update and improve the Amp were done incrementally and with great respect to the historic character and integrity of the original design. This work was also often done with financial support from the preservation community, including the New York State Historic Preservation Office. Because of this careful stewardship, the Amp is still very much a historic structure worthy of preservation for future generations.

    Can’t the Amp’s status as a National Historic Landmark prevent its demolition?

    No. Because private funds are being used for the demolition and reconstruction, this project is not subject to review by the New York State Historic Preservation Office or the National Park Service.

    Is demolition and building a replica the only way to improve the Amp?

    No. There are many ways the Amp can be updated and improved without demolishing it. CJS Architects, a nationally respected firm, has provided a report of preservation-based alternatives as a starting point for a meaningful preservation discussion. This report responds to the Institution’s publically stated goals for the Amp project, though it was prepared without the benefit of any of the its studies or plans.

    Has the Institution asked residents and visitors what they want?

    Yes, and their answers don’t seem to support a new Amp. The Institution’s own survey shows that the architectural history of the Amp was the most important feature in defining the Amphitheater experience among respondents. Additionally, 93% of respondents indicated that the current Amp adequately accommodates the Institution’s programming, while 31% felt that the Amp meets those needs perfectly.

    What is the status of the Institution’s plan?

    Amid growing pressure from residents, preservationists, and concerned citizens across the country, the Institution announced on January 20, 2015, that it was opening up the process for public dialogue and deferring a decision on the Amp until August 2015. In April 2015, the Institution announced that it had sought recommendations on the project from the National Park Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Interior which has no approval authority. The Institution subsequently established an advisory panel to review the current plans. While the National Trust is not participating on this panel, it does include representatives from three of our preservation partners – Preservation Buffalo Niagara, the Preservation League of New York State, and the New York State Historic Preservation Office.

    What can I do to help?

    The best thing you can do it to let your voice be heard by signing our petition urging the Institution to develop a preservation-based rehabilitation plan for the historic Amp.

    Where can I find more information?

    Additional information can be found on the Committee to Preserve the Historic Chautauqua Amphitheater’s website and on the Chautauqua Institution’s website.

  • National Trust Names Chautauqua One of America’s National Treasures

    January 27, 2015

    The National Trust for Historic Preservation announced today that it is naming the Chautauqua Amphitheater, a National Historic Landmark located 70 miles southwest of Buffalo, N.Y., a National Treasure. Known as the Amp, the Chautauqua Amphitheater, which has hosted a wide range of leaders, activists and artists over its 122-year history, is threatened by the Chautauqua Institution’s plan to demolish the Amp to make way for a replica.

    The National Trust has supported the Chautauqua Institution in the past for their thoughtful stewardship. A coalition of preservation groups, including the National Trust, is now calling on the Institution’s distinguished Board of Trustees to reconsider the need to replace this unique, storied structure. The Amp is an authentic and important part of the Institutions’ history of intellectual engagement, entertainment and debate.

    “There are many significant cultural historic sites in America, but there is only one original Chautauqua Amphitheater,” said Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO, National Trust for Historic Preservation. “The plan to demolish the Amp would tear at the heart of Chautauqua, and compromise the historic character that many Chautauquans and visitors from around the country deeply value. It also threatens the National Historic Landmark status of this nationally significant place.”

    While the National Trust is pleased with the Institution’s recent announcement to postpone any decisions on the Amphitheater project until August, we encourage the Institution to recognize and embrace the value of the authentic building as a starting point for a renewed dialogue. The National Trust is encouraging the Institution to work closely and openly with local and statewide preservationists who have offered their assistance to come up with an alternative plan that respects the key historic features of the Amp while accommodating necessary and needed improvements. The National Trust is partnering with Preservation Buffalo Niagara, the Preservation League of New York State, the Committee to Preserve the Historic Chautauqua Amphitheater, and many others, in this effort.

    “We had the opportunity to advise the Institution during the early Amp planning process but somewhere along the line the preservation values that were set for this project got lost,” said Jay DiLorenzo, President of the Preservation League of New York State. “We join the National Trust in urging the Board to re-evaluate preservation-based options for rehabilitating the structure.”

    “PBN is eager to employ its energies to help develop an alternative plan that preserves the historic character of the Amp, while improving the facility to meet modern needs,” said Peter Flynn, co-chair of the Preservation Buffalo Niagara board. “Once a building like the Amp is lost, it can never be replaced,” he added.

    Chautauqua transformed American life as the first multi-use retreat in the U.S. that is an arts colony, music festival, village square and summer encampment all at once, spawning dozens of “daughter” Chautauquas throughout the U.S. Chautuaqua programs have explored important religious, social and political issues of the day; engaged individuals and families in response to these issues; and fostered excellence in the appreciation, performance and teaching of the arts. Historical figures who have spoken at, performed at or visited Chautauqua include Franklin Delano Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryan, Susan B. Anthony, Thurgood Marshall, Bobby Kennedy, Lionel Hampton, Marian Anderson, Van Cliburn, Booker T. Washington, both Bill and Hillary Clinton and Sandra Day O’Connor.

    American Express is Presenting Partner of the National Treasures program, and has pledged $6.5 million to help promote and enable the preservation of these cultural and historic places.

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