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Save the Chautauqua Amp Billboards Go Up

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has recently erected “Save the Amp” Billboards at major access points leading to the Chautauqua Institution. They will stay up through the summer. The Trust is ramping up their campaign to make people aware of the plan developed by the Institution leadership to demolish the historic open air amphitheater, often lovingly called the Amp, to make way for a modern replica theater in its place.  The campaign goal is to encourage the Chautauqua Institution to spare the historic amphitheater from demolition and embrace a preservation-based rehabilitation plan.  From the Trust’s web site:

The Chautauqua Amphitheater is the heart of a National Historic Landmark District located 70 miles southwest of Buffalo, NY. Internationally recognized as a forum for American culture and history, the Amp has hosted a wide range of leaders, activists, and artists over its 122-year history. FDR delivered his “I Hate War” speech there in August of 1936. William Jennings Bryan, Susan B. Anthony, Thurgood Marshall, and Bobby Kennedy all walked its boards, as did Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton, Marian Anderson, Susan B. Anthony, Van Cliburn, Amelia Earhart, Booker T. Washington, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Sandra Day O’Connor, to name a few.

Unfortunately, despite this rich history, the Chautauqua Institution is currently planning to demolish the Amp to make way for a replica with updated amenities. Buildings do, and must, evolve over time to remain relevant. The historic Amp is an authentic and important part of the Institution’s history of intellectual engagement, entertainment, and debate. The Institution should reconsider the need to replace this unique, storied structure, and instead come up with an alternative plan that respects its key historic features while accommodating necessary improvements.

The planned demolition was not clearly declared by the Institution until last November, when Institution President Thomas Becker admitted that the web site erroneously described the project as a renovation.  Since then the Institution  received swift and strong public reaction against demolition.  In response they have corrected the web site description and put demolition on hold, but they still show images of the proposed replica building and recent published information appears to be making a case for demolition.

The Trust’s signs have been strategically placed to make the case for saving the Amp and increasing awareness among those most directly affected by its loss, the summer visitors to the Institution. Many of these people may be arriving this summer with the belief that renovation is the plan.  The new signs should make the planned Amp demolition a common  topic of conversation this summer inside the Institution fence.

You can help save the amp by:

Adding your voice to the Trust’s online petition. Over 5000 people have signed so far.

Donating  to the Trust’s campaign. Your contribution will help pay for these important billboards and other efforts to save this historic American treasure.

Written by David Steele

David Steele

Architect ( a real one, not just the armchair type), author of "Buffalo, Architecture in the American Forgotten Land" ( ), lover of great spaces, hater of sprawl and waste,
advocate for a better way of doing things.

View All Articles by David Steele
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