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Published on: Monday, July 8, 2024 read more ...


Preserving ANC's Built Heritage: Tanner Amphitheater

By Timothy Lawson on 12/12/2019




In June 2019, Arlington National Cemetery, in partnership with the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Training Center, finished a four-year project to bring the James Tanner Amphitheater (formerly known as the "Old Amphitheater") into good condition and to restore its 1873 materials, finishes and colors. Together, ANC and the NPS conducted scientific research and analysis to address deterioration of the brick, cast iron, wood, stucco and paint finishes. After research and analysis, we monitored mockups to assure that we selected materials which accurately duplicate the originals and would cause no harm to the historic resource. Our goal was to preserve the amphitheater for current and future generations to appreciate.

Arlington National Cemetery's original amphitheater was built in 1873 as a multi-colored structure with bronzed column capitals and bases. By 1920, it had undergone numerous changes; most noticeably, it had been painted a uniform white. Now, its colors and bronzing replicate the original color scheme. A less noticeable change, but one that had contributed to the amphitheater's deterioration, was the replacement of traditional natural cement mortar and stucco with cement-based products. Over time, the modern cement-based mortar and stucco caused deterioration of the brick. The 2019 project included brick repointing and stuccoing with natural cement mortars, which assures the longevity of the historic brick columns, piers and rostrum.

Built in just 30 days for use on Decoration Day (Memorial Day) in 1873, Tanner Amphitheater was designed by Montgomery C. Meigs, a nationally acclaimed engineer who was then quartermaster general of the U.S. Army. It was the first amphitheater constructed in a national cemetery, and it reflects the building practices of the late 19th century. Its modest scale was necessitated by the federal government's lack of funds following the Civil War. 

Tanner Amphitheater contributes to Arlington National Cemetery’s status as a National Register of Historic Places district. It is an architecturally significant example of a 19th-century garden landscape structure, characteristic of rural cemeteries. Although Memorial Amphitheater, dedicated in 1920, became the primary venue for major events and ceremonies at ANC, Tanner Amphitheater is still used for smaller assemblies, more than 140 years after its construction.

See also: 

•  The Memorial Amphitheater Centennial (online exhibit) 

•  Monuments and Memorials 



Timothy Lawson
Tanner Amphitheater