Demolition of Butler University Amphitheater Being Considered

Tue October 14, 2003 - National Edition

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Butler University officials are considering whether to tear down the campus amphitheater that has played host to some of the biggest names in entertainment.

A planning firm is expected to be on campus this week to work on its study of a proposed housing and wellness center on the site of the Hilton U. Brown Theatre.

The 4,000-seat theater next to Hinkle Fieldhouse was the home of Starlight Musicals until that series ended in 1993. But it has only been used sparingly since then, with the last concert in 2000.

While the 48-year-old theater is still structurally sound, it does not fit in the university’s long-term plans, said Mike Gardner, Butler’s vice president for operations.

No market exists for the facility now, he said, largely because of competition from the outdoor Verizon Wireless Music Center near Noblesville and Butler’s own Clowes Hall.

"If we determine there is some facility that is a higher and better use for the site, we would tear [the theater] down," Gardner said.

The nearly four decades of the Starlight Musicals series included such performers as Liza Minnelli, Natalie Cole and Liberace and musicals such as "The Music Man’ and "South Pacific."

"I’m sorry to see that they’re thinking about tearing it down. It’s a shame," said Ruth Keno, 68, who lives near the theater. "In the neighborhood, you could hear the music if your windows were open."

Preservationists say the theater likely would not qualify as a historic landmark because buildings generally have to be at least 50 years old, but they are concerned about a new structure being built near Hinkle Fieldhouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

”A new building should not overshadow or diminish the architectural grandeur and historical significance of the Hinkle Fieldhouse,’ said Cathy Turissini of the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana.