Monessen City Park, as well as the Amphitheater, are important landmarks of the city. Both of these landmarks were built as Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects, as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 'New Deal' Program, during the Great Depression. The park was dedicated on August 8, 1931, and was given to Monessen by the Kisor Family. Mrs. Pearl Kisor was a Manown, and her family originally owned the farmland in downtown Monessen that was purchased in 1894 by Colonel Schoonmaker, to start Monessen. The amphitheater was part of the park's original construction. The Monessen Memorial Stadium is another example of a WPA project in the city.
The amphitheater, originally called the bandstand, served as an outdoor venue for many local bands, musicians, pageants, festivals, and ceremonies, with the last major event being Monessen's Centennial festivities in 1998. The old structure slowly fell into disrepair and became overgrown. The original structure was simply a stone platform, with rows of bleachers existing where the seats are today. The platform is the same size as it was in 1931;however, it was reconstructed in concrete, and better drainage was added.
In 2013 the Second Annual Raise Your Voice Music and Arts Festival here in Monessen. The Raise Your Voice Festival was held at the amphitheater before any plans were made to renovate it. Before the festival, many people had no idea that there was an amphitheater. Most weren’t sure what it was! The weekend before the festival, the Monessen Communities That Care Youth Council, helped clean up mud, twigs and debris from the amphitheater and the surrounding area. The Monessen school district lent us risers and we set up the amphitheater, with the help of city workers, and prepared for it to once again be used for an event. That year, the festival was held at the end of April. It was only the second year, and the first year that we were having it outside. We moved forward with the plans and hoped for the best.
On the day of the music festival, 16 local bands played here at City Park, at the various pavilions, as well as here at the amphitheater stage. The musicians that played here loved the layout of the park and this venue, and the way the sound traveled. The festival brought nearly 300 people that day, and we were ecstatic!
After the success of the Raise Your Voice festival, we decided to plan a much smaller, intimate Summer Concert Series with local bands, which was held twice a month from June-August of last year. The concerts were also a success, mostly bringing in students from Cal U. While we continued to have events at the Monessen library, throughout the winter, plans were approved to renovate the amphitheater due to the increased interest in the venue.
The project was initiated by the City of Monessen, under Mayor Mary Jo Smith, and was funded with a grant by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and Community Development Block Grant funds. Work moved rather slowly at first, due to the harsh winter that was had throughout the area. The amphitheater design was conceived by Urban Design Ventures, and was modeled to fit the time period and style of the existing structure. The project was not yet completed when we held the Raise Your Voice Festival again, in May 2014, but excitement grew as people saw the project underway.
The project was finally completed in June 2014, and our new Amphitheater Committee was formed. We got together and planned our first event, ‘Doo Wop in the Park’ with DJ Dennis Wince and had over 250 people there, to our surprise and excitement. Two weeks later, with the help of Hilltop Fire Department and the Monessen Community Development Corporation, Nashville recording artist Dallas Marks came to town to perform country music for a crowd of 300. The final event that year, was held in August 2014. The Monessen Historical Society held their annual Founder’s Day Living History Celebration here at the Park. The event featured games, activities, food, and historical reenactments.
We’re very excited to have the support of the City of Monessen and its residents to bring events to the amphitheater and to bring more people to the city. We are lucky that we have a park in the middle of our city, with a centrally located amphitheater of this size and quality. Not many towns in this area can boast of this kind of asset; we must use this to our advantage. Music, arts, and cultural events have the potential to attract many people and increase local business activities in the surrounding area. Bringing all of us together to make this happen is important,and with it, we can make the city of Monessen, the Mid-Mon Valley, the Western Laurel Highlands, and even the Southern portion of the Greater Pittsburgh Region, more viable. Thank you for your continued support in our endeavors!