The stage is set: Now all Monteith Amphitheater needs is a top-notch bank of seats
by Gheni Platenburg
Staff Writer
Aug 23, 2009 | 2417 views |  1 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A group, informally called the Amphitheater Renovation team, has been working to restore the theater, which is called the Monteith Amphitheater. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star
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MCCLELLAN — Once overrun with trees, poison ivy, and wild critters, the Monteith Amphitheater at McClellan is almost as good as new.

The project took the involvement of a team dedicated to its renovation, federal and local funds and a private donation.

Those involved with its renovation hope the spot can become a new home for Music at McClellan.

The outdoor theater, which once could seat 12,000, was saved three years ago by Pete Conroy, Josephine Ayers, Robert Downing and Butler Green — informally known as the Amphitheater Renovation Team.

Ayers and Conroy are co-chairs of Music at McClellan, Downing is a Calhoun County commissioner and Green is the county's solid waste coordinator.

"It was literally on the demolition list," said Conroy, director of the Jacksonville State University Environmental Policy and Information Center.

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, helped the group obtain a $493,614 Small Business Administration grant, through the Calhoun County Commission. However, this turned out not to be enough money to cover what county commission paralegal/grant manager Gloria Floyd described as "unforeseen circumstances."

These circumstances in-cluded fixing the septic tank, roof, and water supply.

To cover these costs, the group sought additional financial assistance.

Assistance eventually came in the form of $100,000 from the Joint Powers Authority, as well as additional monies from the county commission and a private local donor, Farley Moody Galbraith.

The amphitheater has undergone renovations over the last year, meaning more than just a fresh coat of paint for its dressing rooms, stage, office, reception area, as well as the loading and unloading areas. Yet even though the Monteith has undergone many changes, Conroy said, the renovators did not "change the integrity of the structure."

He did, however, tout one big change.

"Acoustically, it's going to be one of the best venues in the nation," he said.

Although substantial changes have been made on the indoor structure, the same cannot be said for the sloped seating area outside.

Conroy attributed this to a lack of funds.

"We need between $1 and $2 million to get the job done that we foresee," said Conroy. "We are in search of an angel and sponsors to finish the job."

The amphitheater enthusiasts hope to transform the grassless, red dirt-filled seating area into concrete terraces, complete with padded seats and a concession area.

If this happens as planned, it will bring back old memories for Green, for in addition to being a member of the Amphitheater Renovation Team, he also served as a soldier in the 31st Division of the National Guard.

He recalled the first time he stepped foot in the theater.

"The first thing they did at camp was gather all the soldiers together and talk to them," said Green.

Although concerts were commonplace at the amphitheater, Green said his visits to the venue were all work and no play.

"We didn't have no time for shows," he said.

For those soldiers who were fortunate to have time for entertainment, the venue attracted a lot of big name acts.

According to the Music at McClellan Web site, the venue hosted a number of legendary events including a Joe Louis fight exhibition, musical acts and nationally acclaimed Broadway shows.

In addition to its entertainment history, the Monteith also played a part in the civil rights movement.

In 1942, the 92nd Infantry, one of the first African-American divisions, was inducted into the U.S. Army, according to the Music at McClellan Web site.

"It could've been one of the first places where integration took place as mixed infantries were activated on this stage," said Conroy.

In fact, the restoration of the building has spurred what Buffalo soldier re-enactor John Sherrer deemed to be a history lesson of sorts.

"There's a lot of things that people learn everyday about things (black soldiers) did and didn't do," said Sherrer. "It just tells me that this is another place where the Buffalo Soldiers were."

The Amphitheater Renovation Team hope to have the amphitheater open and ready for public use by next summer.

"We are optimistic about having a portion if not all of Music at McClellan there next year," said Conroy.

Conroy said the city is happy about having a new place to host the concert series because it will eliminate the $50,000 cost of renting a stage each year.

The Amphitheater Renovation Team is also hopeful that the close proximity of Anniston to Atlanta, Birmingham, and Chattanooga will attract more than just local visitors.

"We will be able to attract big names drawing on big cities to create a big economic impact," said Conroy.

Despite the time it has taken to bring the project to fruition, Conroy agreed that the Monteith is just what Calhoun County needs.

"This community needs something that everyone can wrap their arms around," said Conroy. "This project just might be it."
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