Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood - Chautauqua Auditorium, DeFuniak Springs Florida

Date added: July 14, 2023 Categories: Florida Community Facility Theater
South and West (front) facades (1979)

Known originally as the New Hall of Brotherhood, the Chautauqua Auditorium was completed in 1910.

The Chautauqua, founded in 1874 by John H, Vincent and Lewis Miller, was an indigenous adult educational organization developed in the United States. Founded on the banks of Lake Chautauqua in New York, there were at least fifty Chautauquas around the country by 1886. The movement combined education, recreation and religion and was designed to "utilize the general demand for summer rest by uniting daily study with healthful recreation". The first annual Chautauqua appeared in Florida in 1885 and the ambition of the directors was "not to be in any sense a rival to the great Chautauqua, but an assistant". It was, however, patterned after the original Lake Chautauqua resort and was located on the banks of Lake DeFuniak in Western Florida. The aim of the Florida Chautauqua was stated in this manner: "The object and purpose of this corporation is to establish and maintain an educational institution known as an Assembly on the general plan of the Chautauquas, New York, with courses of lecture and class instruction in art, science, philosophy, history, literature and morals" The Florida Chautauqua flourished for about twenty-five years in its original form and afterward DeFuniak continued to be one of many Florida towns on the circuit of the nationwide Chautauqua which brought with it lecturers and entertainers of the magnitude of William Jennings Bryan. In later years the movement was to evolve from a general education emphasis to traveling entertainment shows. The traveling Chautauquas first appeared in 1904 and the performances usually lasted from three to seven days. The competition of radio and the building of good roads brought an end to Chautauqua in the mid-1920s. For this reason, the Chautauqua Auditorium in DeFuniak Springs stands as a monument to one of the earliest and finest movements in mass education and culture in the United States.

Building Description

Known originally as the New Hall of Brotherhood, the Chautauqua Auditorium was completed in 1910. In a description taken from the 1912 program, the new auditorium is described as being "the largest in the Southland", having a capacity for four thousand people. It was "superbly fitted with all modern conveniences", including steam heat and electric lights with dissolving color effects and footlights for the presentation of plays.

Externally the building is impressive. Two stories in height and of frame construction, the building has a balance and symmetry throughout. There are three two-story porticos on the west, facade each of which is classical in detail.

There are four Doric columns above and below on each portico with the second level being balustraded. There is a plain cornice and pediment on each portico. The building has a hipped roof with a small brick chimney at each end. Rising directly behind the central pediment is an enlarged cupola with a subsidiary lantern-type structure on top. The cupola has a bell-shaped roof with flared eaves and a narrow cornice above twenty-four miniature Doric columns. A balustrade with spindle motif runs around the entire base of the cupola. The lantern roof repeats the shape of the cupola roof and both structures are pierced with windows to admit light and air. There are five ground-floor entrances to the front facade, four single doors and one double doorway in the center. Fenestration is symmetrical and the window type is four over four light double-hung sash. There are four blind arches on the ground floor which may have been ticket windows originally. There is a long wing at the back of the building, giving the structure a T-shape. The wing contains rows of wooden benches which provided seating for the audience. The stage, which had a capacity for over one hundred actors, was located in the rear portion of the building.

A grants-in-aid project was funded and work to replace the roof and foundations of the auditorium was completed in June, 1975. A Phase II grant was then authorized in July, 1975.

On September 23, 1975 hurricane Eloise severely damaged the auditorium. Preliminary examination of the damage showed one-third of the roof was destroyed, the rear (east) wall collapsed, the center truss buckled and other trusses sprung, and the north and south walls strained. Authorization of Phase II work was withdrawn on November 13, 1975 pending further review. Further review indicated that the auditorium was a hazard to life and limb and the west addition was threatened with water damage due to the unrepaired auditorium. In January 1976, disaster relief funds were allocated to remove the auditorium which was determined to be beyond the point of effective restoration. By February 1977 this work was completed along with the stabilization of areas of the roof and walls of the western section.

The remaining structure is the Hall of Brotherhood which was attached to the western end of the auditorium about 1912. It is a two-story wood frame building with hip roof and brick foundation wall. The main (west) facade is divided into five areas: the center and two ends have two-story Doric porticos of three bays each. Between these three porticos are two bay plain elevations of the main block. Above the central portico is a dome on a one-story lighted frame drum. This drum has a Doric colonnade with spindle balustrade serving as a gallery. To roof this gallery, the metal surfacing of the dome kicks out, giving the dome/drum composition a bell-shaped profile. Surmounting the dome is a lighted cupola with its roof reflecting the bell-shaped dome.

Originally the building had wood panel doors with transoms and one-over-one double-hung sash windows. In addition, there were small ticket windows flanking the main entrance in the central portico. Window and door surrounds were pedimented. All openings today are stabilized with plywood coverings.

The north and south facades of the 1912 building each had additional three bay porticos which have since been removed, as have porticos on either end of the east facade. In addition, the major portion of the first floor on the east facade where the auditorium was removed, has been covered with clapboard. Doors and windows have been set in this new exterior wall and brick stoops and stairs provide access to these. The second floor of the east elevation is unaltered although now stabilized by plywood covering the windows.

Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood - Chautauqua Auditorium, DeFuniak Springs Florida Main facade, west elevation (1970)
Main facade, west elevation (1970)

Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood - Chautauqua Auditorium, DeFuniak Springs Florida South and West (front) facades (1979)
South and West (front) facades (1979)

Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood - Chautauqua Auditorium, DeFuniak Springs Florida East (rear) facade (1979)
East (rear) facade (1979)

Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood - Chautauqua Auditorium, DeFuniak Springs Florida North facade (1979)
North facade (1979)

Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood - Chautauqua Auditorium, DeFuniak Springs Florida South facade (1979)
South facade (1979)