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Trees and Houses View of a Chautauqua street
Chautauqua: An American Narrative
Chautauqua has experienced many different periods of growth during its long history, and that legacy is reflected in its architecture. For many people, the Chautauqua grounds give the sense of stepping back into the past. The grounds contain nearly every style of American architecture between the 1870's and the 1950's. According to Chautauqua historian and archivist Jon Schmitz, "There really is no one period. We are not a Victorian community. We really are a community that has grown out of the late 19th century and has accumulated from every era that it has gone through in getting us to where we are today."

Bestor Plaza View of the Colonnade Building
Eileen Elibol/WNED
From the beginning, Chautauqua was a planned community designed to reflect the best aspects of American life. A premium was placed on open spaces for gathering and discussion. This mentality reflected the 'City Beautiful' style that was popular during the early 1900's. The City Beautiful placed importance on open spaces, broad avenues, and large pillared buildings. Though the City Beautiful plans for Chautauqua were never fully realized, many of the elements can be seen around the grounds. The emphasis on pedestrian streets, the brick walks, the central square, the Colonnade building, the post office, the Hall of Philosophy, and the Hall of Christ are all City Beautiful elements.

Anthenaeum Hotel View of the Athenaeum Hotel
Eileen Elibol/WNED
One of the most recognizable structures on the Chautauqua grounds is the Athenaeum Hotel. Built in 1881 to house visiting speakers and dignitaries, the Athenaeum is a perfect example of Chautauqua's combining of varying styles. The building itself is done in the Second Empire Style, however its large porch and many common rooms are full of Arts and Crafts-style wicker furniture. The two styles are integrated seamlessly and provide a perfect model of Chautauqua's varying architecture.

Anthenaeum Front Porch View from the Athenaeum porch
Eileen Elibol/WNED
The many houses on the Chautauqua grounds are as diverse and varied as the people who call them home. Among the over 900 residences on the grounds are examples of nearly every style of American architecture from Victorian, to Second Empire, to Craftsman, and others. Despite lacking a single dominant style, Chautauqua's architectural variety creates a strange sort of cohesion. Simply by walking around the grounds, a visitor can take a pretty well-rounded class in the development of American architecture from the late 19th to the middle 20th century. Chautauqua President Thomas Becker says the grounds are really, "about preserving a historical statement in this country, from an architectural point of view."
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