Greek Amphitheatre (Magnolia)
The Greek Amphitheatre, located at the junction of East Lane Drive, East University Street, and Crescent Drive at Southern Arkansas University (SAU) in Magnolia (Columbia County), was constructed between 1936 and 1938 with assistance from the National Youth Administration (NYA), a Depression-era federal relief program. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 1, 2005.
In 1936, the graduating class at the then two-year Magnolia A&M voted to help build an amphitheater on the campus as their memorial to the school. They acquired support from the NYA, with the federal agency providing labor and the college and the class of 1936 supplying an additional $200 and materials. The stage had progressed sufficiently to host a May 14, 1936, performance of Antigone in celebration of Arkansas’s statehood centennial, though a student journalist for The Bray, the college newspaper, decried the fact that “the steel rods that were to connect the cornice to the base [on the columns] are still exposed. Without the cornice the stage is not in proportion.”
Construction continued into 1937, when the Arkansas Gazette reported that “twenty-two boys, both Negro and white, are working in crews and at present are pouring concrete for the supporting columns and beams” while awaiting the arrival of pre-cast concrete slabs for construction of the bleacher section of the project, which was led by foreman George W. Phillips. In October, the newspaper noted that the NYA had spent $6,000 on the “concrete amphitheatre.”
As the project entered into 1938, the NYA labor force was bolstered by the college’s classical history and engineering students, as well as college employees. The Greek Amphitheatre was dedicated on May 13, 1938, with federal, state, and local NYA officials on hand to turn the structure over to college president C. A. Overstreet.
The finished project is an elliptical oval with a concrete stage and columns opposite a pair of concrete bleachers. Three clusters of Greek columns adorn the stage, which is inscribed with the names of the students who initiated the project etched in the concrete on either side of the central columns. Two steps rising from the orchestra pit are inscribed “CLASS/1936.” A concrete marker at the entrance to the amphitheater is inscribed “BUILT BY / NATIONAL YOUTH / ADMINISTRATION / IN COOPERATION WITH / A&M COLLEGE / MAGNOLIA / 1937–1938.”
In 2014, SAU graduate student Michael Davis secured an Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council grant that provided $119,000 for refurbishment of the Greek Amphitheatre, which is the only structure of its kind in southern Arkansas.
For additional information:
Jampole, Sarah A. “Greek Amphitheatre.” National Register of Historic Places registration form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/CO0250.nr.pdf (accessed January 29, 2020).
“Magnolia A.M. Amphitheater Dedicated.” Arkansas Gazette, May 14, 1938, p. 2.
“M.P.A. Student Raises $119,000 for SAU.” Southern Arkansas University. https://web.saumag.edu/graduate/2014/05/m-p-a-student-raises-119000-for-sau/ (accessed January 29, 2020).
“NYA Constructing Amphitheater at Magnolia A. and M.” Arkansas Gazette, May 5, 1937, p. 2.
“NYA Spending $241,814 in Arkansas.” Arkansas Gazette, October 3, 1937, p. 2.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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