The Chautauqua Institution was founded in 1874 as an experiment in out-of-school learning in a vacation setting, and included academic subjects, music, art, and physical education. By 1880 the Chautauqua platform was an established national forum for open discussion of public issues, international relations, literature and science. Speakers have included Booker T. Washington; Susan B. Anthony; Teddy, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt; Amelia Earhart; Bobby Kennedy; Al Gore; and Thurgood Marshal. Musicians who performed there include John Philip Sousa, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald.
The amphitheater was constructed in 1893 to replace a wooden structure that had deteriorated badly. The primary supports for the roof are eight steel trusses that sit on steel columns. Surveys showed the structure was progressively moving laterally, raising questions about safety. Old Structures evaluated the stability of the existing structure for all loads, including the extremely high local snow load. Upon completion of field investigation and stability analysis, which determined under wind and uneven snow load the columns were overstressed, OSE designed a tension rod bracing system for installation in the fall to prevent further lateral movement of the amphitheater under critical loads. In the spring, the rods could be removed allowing continued use of the building. In addition, we performed a feasibility study of possible long-term solutions to the lateral drift.