As the heart of the community, the Amp needs a little rehab

Click here to view an interactive timeline of the Amphitheater’s renovation.
All photos courtesy of the Chautauqua Institution Archives.

George Cooper | Staff Writer

The Amphitheater at Chautauqua is the heart of the community, a heart entering its 120th year — an age that exacts many demands on so important an organ.

In the first of what will be three Preservation Talks, the Chautauqua Heritage Lecture Series presents Charlie Heinz, past vice president for community planning and design. His talk is titled, “Preservation through Rehabilitation: The Chautauqua Amphitheater.” The event will begin at 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Christ.

According to an unpublished monograph written by Jon Schmitz, Chautauqua archivist and historian, the current Amp is not even the original Amp — the first one was constructed in 1879.

The current Amp was completed in 1893; the Massey Memorial Organ was installed in 1907 with some major changes to the building. Changes came to the stage in 1921. In 1928, a new console was installed with changes to the organ. 1954 brought a new floor, changes to the roof, an enlarged platform and changes to rooms. And still further reinforcements were installed in 1978.

These days, 1978 is a long time ago. The current plans for the Amp are big. Schmitz said that in rehabilitating the Amp, architects and engineers must make certain changes while preserving the identity of the original structure. That is, they must “make changes in tune with the history of the place.”

Heinz knows the building well, working with other members of the Amphitheater Study Group, which delivered its final report to the board of trustees in November 2011. The board approved the implementation of the schematic design phase of the project in February 2012.

“Now the schematic design is being costed, and we are examining choices,” Heinz said.

Choices are central to the presentation Heinz will give today. The trustees have told the Study Group to keep a number of variables in mind as they make their choices, among which are safety, functionality, acoustics, preservation and environment. Heinz said those variables are in tension with one another — to say nothing of cost.

Heinz will try to bring his audience into the balancing act, helping them experience tensions that exist when weighing and balancing goals, an experience made more tedious and ever more exhilarating by the subject at the heart of the examination — the Chautauqua Amphitheater.

“If you think of other outdoor venues, they are out in pastures or parking lots,” Heinz said. “This one is in the center of the community.”