Renovated Monessen Amphitheater home to vibrant scene

ancient_italy_194839As winter and its sub-freezing temperatures settle over southwest Pennsylvania, it might be difficult to imagine the warm, bright days of summer. But it is those fine days for which Karla Spangler, a Monessen amphitheater committee member, has plans.

The Monessen City Amphitheater is enjoying a resurgence in use and popularity since its mid-year revitalization in 2014, which was brought about by the mayoral administration of Mary Jo Smith, Monessen’s first female holding the office. Smith’s administration successfully spearheaded the 2013 effort to obtain grants for revitalizing the run-down amphitheater.

According to Spangler, before its renovations, the amphitheater “used to have a dinky stage that was a stone riser. The back stone wall was falling apart. You wouldn’t even know it was an amphitheater if you looked at it.”

The former band-stand, part of Monessen City Park’s original construction in 1931, hosted events through 1998 but fell into disuse and subsequent decay for roughly 15 years though a number of bands played shows during that time, said Matt Shorraw, Monessen City Amphitheater board president.

Shorraw, responding to questions in an email interview, said funding for the revitalization project was provided through the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). Matching funds were provided by Monessen’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), which is allocated annually from the state of Pennsylvania. Shorraw also noted that no amphitheater renovation funds were directly drawn from Monessen’s general fund.

Once restored from its neglect, the amphitheater’s new era was ignited with a ribbon cutting ceremony, complete with dignitaries, while audience members enjoyed family-friendly doo-wop, country, vocal, jazz, and DJ music. Improvements such as new, bigger side walls and roof were made, along with new dressing rooms, and improved electrical systems to provide power for the next generation of performers.

The amphitheater’s first, albeit short season was punctuated by Trunk or Treat – a Halloween event where decorated cars lined up along the park’s walkway for children to trick or treat. Spangler said of the event, “It was at the walking track, which had been repaved because of a grant obtained by Patricia Bukowski.” Bukowski is a council member of City of Monessen Parks and Public Property, and the founding member of the amphitheater committee.

For its first full year, the 10 member amphitheater committee brought in “…a polka band, a jazz band, the Mon Valley Community Band, Dallas Marks,” Spangler said, adding “We had a DJ with oldies and Motown music. We had a fall festival with vendors and entertainment.”

2015’s events included another Trunk or Treat at the walking track, with “30 cars and about 300 kids. It’s getting really popular” Spangler said, while a colorful, festive “Christmas in the Park” celebration completed the amphitheater’s auspicious season.

Events for 2016 restart in June and run through July and August, with planned events for the fall, and other events throughout the year as they become scheduled. There are no admission charges to attend events at the amphitheater, Shorraw said.

“The amphitheater committee is trying to get people to come and do family friendly, free events, and now people know they can rent (the amphitheater) for weddings, or whatever events. If they want to rent, they can go through the city treasurer’s office,” Spangler said, elaborating “People who come are impressed with how nice it now is, and we just want to get people outside and do something.”

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Story by Keren Lee Dreyer for Pennsylvania Bridges