Aug 15, 2020
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Fresno State amphitheater’s unforgettable legacy

The 57-year-old historic amphitheater constructed in 1962 on the grounds of Fresno State University was a spotlight for many people. 

The venue seated 5,000 people and became a gathering place for students and the community. The space held all sorts of events- –political rallies, music concerts and movie nights. 

“We are very proud of what it was and added in its time. It was a very special place on campus,” said Lisa Boyles, public information officer for University Communications. “[It] brought people together, the community here to share a lot of happy memories, and significant ones, and sad moments too.”

On Nov. 26, 1963 classes had been cancelled for students and faculty to attend a memorial service following President John F. Kennedy’s assassination because the amphitheaterwas chosen to be a spot for a memorial serivce. 

One of many historic events that had happened was in April 1968 when Sen. Robert F. Kennedy stepped foot on campus to come and speak at the amphitheater for his campaign. Forty-eight days later, he was gunned down at a hotel in Los Angeles the night he won the California Presidential Primary. 

Kennedy’s visit prepared a speech followed by a question-and-answer session that had over 5,000 attendees. 

“I stand with the spirit of youth and that is where I think America stands. And, that is why I run for president,” Kennedy said in April of 1968. 

Kennedy’s question-and-answer session brought a variety of major topics such as riots, wars, poverty etc. to his audience. 

His first stop on his 13-hour trip to Fresno was Fresno State.

Kennedy’s campaign stop in 1968 was covered by Dennis McCall, The Collegian’s executive editor. 

“There was a really good atmosphere. The students and the campus were thrilled that Bobby Kennedy came to Fresno State to make a campaign stop,” McCall told The Collegian on Nov. 2016 – remembering nearly 5 decades ago since he had covered the story for The Collegian.

The history of Fresno State amphitheater will continue to live through those who were attendees of the many events when it was in use.

Jim Boren, former Fresno Bee editor and executive director of the Fresno State Institute for Media and Public Trust says, it is important that we acknowledge the history of the amphitheater because many huge events had happened and the history should always be remembered.

He remembers the time he had graduated from Hoover High School with its ceremony being held at the amphitheater. 

Chicano/Latino Commencement held their ceremonies at the amphitheater from 1980 to 1994.

The venue had also become a spot for Dog Days and Vintage Days celebrations. Some concerts that were held during Dog Days were Jefferson Starship in 1982, Prince in 1985 and more. 

Mike + the Mechanics and Hootie and the Blowfish are performances that have been confirmed. Other singers, Tom Petty and Journey had also played the Amphitheater in 1983.

The final concert that was held at the amphitheater was country artist Travis Tritt, who performed in 2002. 

The community had an opportunity to grab blankets for movie nights that hosted films like  “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and others while interacting with those around them.

An outdoor venue had encouraged a different atmosphere for the community than in an arena like the Save Mart Center. 

One of the reasons why events had been stopped was due to the campus growing bigger and noise complaints that were being made due to classes that were being held throughout the day. 

The university plans to honor the history that was captured in the amphitheater by saving pieces of the big stones that said “amphitheater.” 

“What we are building in that space in the heart of the campus with the Resnick Student Union will be a spectacular new space on campus for current and future students to make their own memories,” Boyles said.

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