In 1911, the community of Pana, Illinois dedicated a structure whose primary purpose was to host an annual summer Chautauqua event. The setting is an approximately 40 acre landscape known as Kitchell Park; the park is on the National Register of Historic Places. While the Chautauqua Movement, as it was known, had its origin in western New York in 1874, it was in the first 3 decades of the 20th century that its “second half” took on a format whose hold on Central Illinois was simply unique. Many communities held Chautauqua events; however, not all of them constructed permanent structures to house their annual activities. Pana became one of several neighboring communities that constructed a permanent Chautauqua facility; the density of permanent Chautauqua structures in Illinois, much less Central Illinois, remains an interesting phenomenon of the movement.
For over a generation the Stage, Band Shell, and Back Stage of Pana’s Chautauqua Auditorium/Pavilion were idled by deterioration. This once vital forum for community engagement remained dormant until this project. The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency made the determination it would be acceptable to remove the remains of the deteriorated wood structure and rebuild it. The Stage, Band Shell, and Back Stage were not salvageable except for two windows used in the new restrooms and were rebuilt to meet the Secretary of Interior Standards.
In 2006, Pana applied for and in 2007 was awarded a transportation enhancement grant to restore the Stage, Band Shell, and Back Stage of their historic Chautauqua structure. The grant meant Pana would be responsible for 20% of the project’s costs with the balance being provided by the Federal government via management by the Illinois Department of Transportation. A local campaign which first paid for a new roof for the pavilion before this project contributed about a third of the City’s 20%; a true community effort. Construction began in June 2009 with Punch List items completed in May/June 2010.
One of the particular challenges of the project was to make the Stage Level accessible to those with disabilities. An accessible ramp was incorporated into the design whose layout purposefully blends with the rebuilt structure. The Stage Level is now accessible to the entire community and its particular long range impact will continue to gain momentum with each annual event and new events that are being programmed.
The project meets at least three of AIA’s (The American Institute of Architects) 10 Principles for Livable Communities: Design on a Human Scale, Provide Choices, and Build Vibrant Public Spaces. Many in Pana are in walking distance of this cultural resource, the renovated structure creates a lively and vibrant neighborhood amenity, and it is a well defined public space that allows for community expression.
Kitchell Park and its celebrated auditorium/pavilion is the hub of Pana’s community activities at least 8 months of each year. Antique car shows, blacksmith hammer-in’s, antique tractor shows, the Illinois Antique-Classic Bicycle Show and Swap Meet, municipal bands, carnivals, cooking contests, and a farmer’s market are in many ways modern day Chautauqua events. These events and new ones are now enjoying a venue that had been silenced for too many years and was almost forgotten; the community’s pride is palpable.