The Front Porch: Chautauqua rules: ‘Crusty, but often right’

Column by John Warren

A couple weeks back, we were settling in for a New Age-y puppet show at Smith Wilkes Hall. We were just being real-world considerate. But real-world questions don’t always meet with real-world answers in Chautauqua.

“Is this seat taken?” my wife asked, as we scoped out our usual seats on the periphery, which afford us a nice view of the side of the piano.

“Oh, there is no seat-saving in Chautauqua,” the man by the vacant seats said, with the same inflection someone in the real world would use for, say, “There is no smoking in ICU.”

Ah. There’s a Chautauqua Rule we didn’t know about yet. No seat-saving. Got it.

It’s in the rule book. Yes, there is a book of rules — rules, not to be confused with laws. It’s called “Living in Chautauqua,” published by the Chautauqua Property Owners Association. It can be found collecting dust — and possibly antipathy — in the magazine rack of any denominational house.

Rules. So many rules.

Got a bike?

Bells on bicycles. And headlights. And blinky red lights under the seat. And reflectors. And helmets. And drive thataway behind the Chautauqua Bookstore, but thisaway on the St. Elmo side of Bestor Plaza.

My family watched a couple of unsuspecting, young guys launch from their bikes when a man bellowed the Chautauqua Cheer at them. You know, the Chautauqua Cheer: “NO BIKES ON THE BRICK WALK!”

You will also get bellowed at for riding your bike on the red bridge behind the Amphitheater. But, strangely, not for cycling on Thunder Bridge, which is the Autobahn of Chautauqua when Boys’ and Girls’ Club lets out.

Cars? Cars are fine if you watch for the one-way, restricted and prohibited streets, and if you drive through the Institution at 12 mph and with a sense of shame.


Water bottles only in the Amp. No cellphone use, either — a favorite of the CHQ Legacy crowd, known to roll up their programs and sock it to unsuspecting offenders with devil-thumbs.

No chainsaws or leaf blowers.

Between midnight and 7 a.m., if it makes noise, tape it shut.

Fair enough.

“Chautauqua rules are not crazy. Without rules there is chaos,” said Anne Lieberman, who lives in Toronto, and is visiting Chautauqua for the fifth time.

Loren Oliver, who is 9 years old, and 12-year-old John Kolste likewise are OK with the rules, though Oliver suggested a new one: No trams on South Lake Drive during club hours.

“This is a safe place to ride my bike,” said Kolste, who hangs out on Bestor Plaza while his mother works at the St. Elmo. “I love it here.”

“This is meant as a place where you should walk,” Lieberman said. “I like rules that are good for people.”

Good point. But she may not have read some of the head-scratchers in “Living in Chautauqua.”

Sunbathing is restricted to beach areas and privately owned docks. And people going to and from the beach should wear a towel or cover-up.

No towels or bathing suits on porch railings. (That would encourage streaking from the porch to the house, right?)

No skateboards. No skateboarding. Anywhere.

You could look it up, as Casey Stengel said.

The other day, Abby, an 11-year-old Goldendoodle, was playing on Bestor Plaza. I hope you all looked past that chirpy-dog facade and saw her for what she is: A rule breaker without a leash.

Somebody show that pup the book. Dogs are not allowed to “frolic in any public place.” Or howl or whine.

It could be said that Chautauqua’s rules are like that Lou Grant-esque boss you once had: crusty, takes getting used to, but often right.

Don’t care for all this structure? Give it time. You might prove to be a Brick Walk bellower in the making.

Got a favorite – or least favorite – Chautauqua rule? Tell me about it on Twitter @johndavidwarren or email it to Thanks to my wife, Heidi Greene Warren, for on-the-grounds help putting this column together.

John Warren is a writing coach and columnist for The Chautauquan Daily.