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Chautauqua Amphitheater designated a 'National Treasure'

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named the Chautauqua Amphitheater a “National Treasure.” The Trust is now part of a coalition of groups campaigning against the Chautauqua Institution’s proposal to demolish and replace the 122-year-old venue.

“What we hope over time is that the institute will return to it progressive core. It’s been a seed of progressive thinking for 100 years in the United States. We believe that thinking about this building as a rehabilitation would be in keeping with that culture,” explained Stephanie Meeks, President and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The coalition includes the National Trust, along with the Preservation League of New York State, Preservation Buffalo Niagara, and the Committee to Preserve the Historic Amphitheater.

The Chautauqua Institution Board announced last week that it would postpone any decision on the Amphitheater project until August. Meeks says the greatest challenge is the thinking that there is only one way to accomplish the end result. She says the plan to replace the “Amp” with a replica would "tear at the heart of its community."

“We don’t believe that buildings should be cast in amber. They really need to be evolved over time, but there’s a way to do that. There’s a way to evolve a building without making the building extinct. That’s what’s at risk here,” said Meeks.

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From left: Jay DiLorenzo and Stephanie Meeks stand with partners from the coalition for the preservation of the Chautauqua Amphitheater.

Meeks says she encourages the board to recognize the value of the Amp’s authenticity, noting that Chautauqua residents as well as visitors from around the country value the structure’s historic character.

Chautauqua Institution President Tom Becker said in a statement following the announcement, "We at Chautauqua Institution appreciate that the National Trust for Historic Preservation shares our concerns about respecting the history of our Institution and its Amphitheater."

Becker went on to state that the board is moving forward with a consultation from the U.S. Department of the interior, following his recommendation for the postponement of a decision.

Behind the plan for altering the Amp are issues of modernization and accessibility.

“We know that historic buildings need to be renewed. We know they need to be modified and adapted for the latest technology and health and safety issues,” said Jay DiLorenzo, President of the Preservation League of New York State.

DiLorenzo says there is a way to address the issues and still be sensitive to the structure. He says as the heart of a national landmark district, the Amp’s historic preservation needs must be factored into future plans.

“That’s really our role as preservationists. To find a way to accommodate these buildings into the future,” DiLorenzo said.

DiLorenzo says he hopes that the Institution’s board will create an inclusive process and be open to a dialogue on how the historic features of the Amp can be protected, before they make a decision.

Avery began his broadcasting career as a disc jockey for WRUB, the University at Buffalo’s student-run radio station.
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