CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. — Chautauqua Institution today released a set of federal agency recommendations that will support the Institution’s ongoing commitment to the historical vibrancy of its Amphitheater’s place and purpose.

The internationally known center for artistic and cultural expression also announced the creation of a panel of experts who will recommend ways to implement one of the key recommendations put forth by the National Park Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior, regarding the Amphitheater project.


Chautauqua Institution President Thomas M. Becker called both the National Park Service recommendations and the panel’s creation “significant next steps in the Institution’s ongoing commitment to historic preservation and adaptation.”

“Since January, when I announced a delay in decision-making about the plans for the Chautauqua Amphitheater, we have maintained a steady, low-key course of consultation and evaluation,” Becker said. “We are assiduously charting a path to preserve the Amphitheater’s historic place in the community.”

NPS commends Chautauqua Institution

Download The National Park Service Letter to CHQ

In January, Chautauqua Institution requested the National Park Service’s assessment and technical assistance in reviewing current project plans for the Chautauqua Amphitheater. The NPS review of the project was made in context to CHQ’s long-held federal designation as a National Historic Landmark District — a designation conferred by the Department of the Interior.

Bonnie Halda, Northeast Regional Chief of Preservation Assistance for the National Park Service, conducted a two-day, on-site inspection of the Institution’s grounds. The visit included a hands-on review of the Amphitheater structure and its context within the landmark district. She was accompanied by Kathryn Schlegel, a historical landscape architect.

NPS officials said they were pleased with the Institution’s ongoing preservation efforts.

Halda wrote in an April 14 letter to Becker: “Overall, we are impressed with the extensive work that the Chautauqua Institution has accomplished over the years to preserve the District while adapting to changing needs.”

NPS officials complimented the Institution on the plans, studies and reports produced over the last five years, as well as the Institution’s oversight and policies for the overall preservation and adaptation of the historic District.

Halda lauded Chautauqua Institution, stating, “We wish to commend you for developing a strategic vision that will improve CHQ’s current programming and that acknowledges that you are the stewards of a National Historic Landmark.”

NPS recommendations

In its report, the National Park Service made a series of recommendations regarding historic preservation at CHQ.

“The Department of the Interior is America’s steward of natural and historic treasures,” Becker said. “They demonstrated a deep commitment to historic preservation, arrived informed about our District, and were exacting in their on-site tour requests and detailed questioning.”

He added, “We were honored by their commitment to Chautauqua Institution’s history, and we will take their recommendations very, very seriously — starting with a panel of experts who will recommend ways to implement one of the key recommendations.”

NPS’s findings and recommendations include:

  • Finding that the Amphitheater is a “prominent” structure within the Chautauqua National Historic Landmark District, “but is also one of many buildings that comprise the District.”
  • Acknowledging the existing history of substantial changes to the Amphitheater, along with the difficult choices inherent in renovating a structure that has significant structural challenges.
  • Affirming that the Massey Organ and house, which will undergo historic preservation in the current plan, is a significant historic feature of the Amphitheater.
  • Recommending the following steps:
    • Compilation of the structural and architectural changes to the Amphitheater over the course of its history;
    • Retention of an independent structural engineer to fully examine and clearly identify the Amphitheater’s structural challenges, to understand its current status, if the plan was not undertaken;
    • Continued identification of the Amphitheater’s “character-defining qualities,” along with a determination of how those qualities might be preserved.
    • Consideration of the back-of-house structure as an addition to the historic structure and refinement of its design for better compatibility with surrounding buildings; and
    • Assessment of the Amphitheater’s landscaping plan, which is “part of its significance.”
    • The preservation office also recommended that the Institution ultimately adopt an overall master plan for the historic District. While the creation of such a master plan is a long-term process, implementation of some of the components of the suggested master plan named in the letter — tree management and stormwater management — are already underway.

In addition, Chautauqua Institution has contacted an independent structural engineering firm. That firm, which has expertise in historic buildings, is scheduled to begin its on-site work shortly.

Implementation of advisory panel

Chautauqua Institution also created a new advisory panel to specifically assist it in continuing to identify the Amphitheater’s significant character-defining qualities and offer recommendations to support the Institution’s intention for the Amphitheater project design to retain the historical vibrancy and significant character-defining qualities of the Amphitheater’s place and purpose.

Invitations to serve on this advisory panel for the Amphitheater project were extended to key professionals with strong backgrounds in architecture and historic preservation, including leaders from regional preservation organizations. Panelists include: Jay DiLorenzo, president of the Preservation League of New York State; Caleb Pifer, executive director of the Historical Society of Erie County; Ted Lownie, founding partner of HHL Architects; Peter Flynn, co-chair of the board of trustees of Preservation Buffalo Niagara; and Kathleen LaFrank and Julian Adams, coordinator of the National Register Unit and director of the Community Preservation Services Bureau, respectively, within the New York State Historic Preservation Office. The project’s lead architect, Marty Serena of Serena Sturm Architects, will also participate to assure direct communication and comprehension of the recommendations.

Elliot Fishman, an experienced facilitator from Ricochet Group, LLC, will be present to facilitate and document the panel’s meetings and discussions. It is expected that this panel’s recommendations will be made public when they complete their review, with occasional updates on the progress of their deliberations throughout the process. It is also hoped the panel members will reconvene in July for a community discussion and question-and-answer session around their recommendations and the process that generated them.

Chautauqua Institution also expressed its commitment to a clear and informed process.

 “We have heard loud and clear Chautauquans’ desire for clarity about our decision-making, fairness in considering the ideas and opinions of others, and inclusiveness in a robust discussion about the Amphitheater and the Institution’s future,” Becker said. “With these next steps, we continue to demonstrate our commitment to these principles.”

The pre‑eminent expression of lifelong learning in the United States, Chautauqua Institution comes alive each summer with a unique mix of fine and performing arts, lectures, interfaith worship and programs, and recreational activities. Over the course of nine weeks, more than 100,000 people visit CHQ and participate in programs, classes and community events for all ages — all within the beautiful setting of a historic lakeside village. Smithsonian magazine named CHQ the No. 1 “Best Small Town to Visit in 2014” in the cover story of its April 2014 issue.