Good-bye to the Chautauqua Amphitheater

For over 130 years the Amphitheater has been the centerpiece of Chautauqua Institution.

The existing Amphitheater as it appeared about 1915
The existing Amphitheater as it appeared about 1915

From its humble beginnings as a simple speaker platform, the Amphitheater has evolved and expanded as Chautauqua Institution grew.

The original 1874 speaker's platform (
The original 1874 speaker’s platform (


Black and white photograph of men and women seated in the Auditoriam amid the trees
An early gathering at the original Chautauqua Auditorium under the trees

When Chautauqua’s leaders built the current Amphitheater in 1893, they designed it to last 100 years. It certainly has done just that, but not without some trouble along the way.

In just the last twenty years alone, the Amphitheater has undergone major renovations to update the electrical capacity for lighting and sound, repairs to the foundation and roof, and the addition of accessible ramps for the disabled, all requirement which could not be envisioned when the original structure was built.

You can click on the illustration below to see a timeline of the Amphitheater’s history and changes over time:

Click on the image to view a timeline of the Amphitheater's history

Every repair and update was a challenge. Chautauqua Institution’s leadership has long tried to balance the needs of a modern age with a desire to preserve the much-loved character of the structure. But, section by section, the Amphitheater has been torn down and rebuilt again and again over the years.

Filled to capacity; a view of the stage from the back of the Amphitheater, 1913.
Filled to capacity; a view of the stage from the back of the Amphitheater, 1913.

Last year, Chautauqua Institution’s governing board at last cried “uncle” and determined that no amount of updates and renovations could prepare the existing Amphitheater for the needs of current and future generations of Chautauquans.

So in last December Chautauqua Institution announced a major remodel of the Amphitheater.

An artist's rendering of the new Amphitheater, looking toward the stage from the rear of the building
An artist’s rendering of how the new Amphitheater will look, viewing the stage from the rear of the structure. (

Construction has already begun on the grounds surrounding the Amphitheater. This fall, after the 2016 season has closed, the existing Amphitheater will be thoroughly remodeled and updated. Essentially, a brand new structure will be built. If all goes according to plans, the new Amphitheater will be completed in time for the 2017 summer season.

An artist's rendering of the view from the stage toward the rear of the structure. (
An artist’s rendering of the view from the stage toward the rear of the structure. (

You can see all the artist’s renderings of the new Amphitheater design by clicking here.

If you’ve ever thought about visiting Chautauqua Institution to see the Amphitheater and the incredible Massey Memorial Organ as Isabella Alden once saw them, 2016 will be the last year you will be able to do so.

Some people are saddened by the change. It’s the end of an era, but the beginning of a beautiful future for Chautauqua Institution’s Amphitheater.

2 thoughts on “Good-bye to the Chautauqua Amphitheater

  1. Will the Massey Memorial Organ be preserved? I know of churches that have allowed their pipe organs to be made unusable or unused. Sad!

    1. Good question, Evona. I understand the Massey Memorial Organ will be preserved and fully functional after the remodel is complete. In one of their recent statements updating their construction progress, Chautauqua Institution stated “Most importantly, the Massey Organ and its house will be retained in their entirety.” —Jenny

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