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Letter: Find a way to preserve historic amphitheater

Find a way to preserve historic amphitheater

I’ve only been coming to Chautauqua Institution for five years, but as a historian and a lover of the arts, I’ve quickly come to love the place and to treasure its unique character. I’m concerned now that an important part of that character might be lost with the plans to rebuild the Chautauqua Amphitheater.

I’m not an expert in preservation, but I understand the importance of maintaining historic structures. Once gone, or dramatically changed, many structures lose their soul and their importance. They become like so much else in our modern society: generic and replaceable. I would rather have Wrigley Field with obstructed sight lines and cramped seating than a modernized ballpark indistinguishable from many others. I feel the same way about the amphitheater. I understand modernization, but modernization needs to be carried out without losing the core of what made a place special.

I recognize the lines are blurry. But the line I focus on is this one: Does a historic site still feel historic or does it feel like a new edition? Yankee Stadium is a new edition (as you can see, I spend a lot of time in ballparks). Fenway Park is a modernized version of a historic arena. Wrigley Field remains a work in progress, as does the Amp. I hope the institution does everything it can to preserve not only the appearance of the Amp but its bones, its structure and its DNA. Because once that line is crossed, there’s no turning back. It’s gone forever.

I hope Chautauqua finds a way to preserve this American gem.

Jonathan Eig

Two-time Chautauqua

Writer in Residence