Loss of Chautauqua Amp was a devastating blow
The Amphitheater – the National Historic Landmark where the “Chautauqua platform” was born, where American culture was shaped and where the women’s suffrage, temperance, and civil rights movements gained steam – was unnecessarily demolished to make way for a $41.5 million imitation.
This happened despite principled and expert opposition from property owners, architects, preservationists and visitors. To counteract this, the institution mounted a deceptive, unethical campaign to mislead critics. Sadly, it worked. The institution succeeded in tearing down a living piece of history and replacing it with one designed by an architect with zero entertainment venue experience.
During the process, the board insisted the Amp was too old and structurally compromised to be updated, that the only solution was to demolish it and replace it, even after an independent engineering report disputed its assertions. As a result, we’re left with a replica, larger in size. And according to architects with no skin in the game, every improvement and amenity in the replica could have been incorporated in a renovated one – saving millions. At the very least, a new Amp designed by an architect noted for innovation – say, Frank Gehry – would have created something worthy of Chautauqua’s history.
While it’s easy for the institution to urge us to accept the new Amp, it is missing the bigger point: Anyone with any appreciation for where we came from knows that places matter. The more America changes, the more important it becomes to treasure our past, because our past inevitably will inform our future. That’s why the story of the Amphitheater needs to be told – and to prevent further destruction of other sacred structures in favor of soulless replicas lacking in creativity and imagination.
Brian J. Berg