The iconic outdoor amphitheatre at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Wis. has an interesting history.
Dr. Melvin Wall joined the River Falls faculty in 1940. He chaired the Plant and Earth Science Department and headed the campus planning committee. A trip to northern Italy and viewing a particular Greco-Roman amphitheatre there inspired him to envision a similar amphitheatre for the campus.
Dr. Wall enlisted the help of the school administration, students and alumni for an amphitheatre. Unfortunately, on Jan. 2, 1967, Dr. Wall and seven other members of an education survey team died near DaNang, Vietman in a plane crash.
The replacement of the limestone amphitheatre at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Wis. is ‘Weathered Mosaic’ segmental blocks (Versa-Lok) in four-unit panels.
The amphitheatre did get built, with hundreds of students, faculty and friends wading through mud to level the site, lay sod and lug slabs of limestone. At the “Melvin Wall Amphitheatre” dedication in 1972, the Minnesota Orchestra performed, and Dr. Wall’s widow, Margaret, donated a memorial fountain in his honor.
But just like the Dr. Wall’s favorite Roman amphitheatre, the Wisconsin elements deteriorated the limestone amphitheatre named in his honor. The school decided to rebuild the amphitheatre. Natural stone wasn’t in the budget, but the
look of natural stone (Versa-Lok) was.
The seat walls were built using 3,000 square feet of ‘Weathered Mosaic’ segmental walls (three block shapes in four-unit panels) to create a random-pattern appearance. The long, arcing seat walls are over 1,400 feet long and about 1.5 feet tall. Stairs are integrated into the seating tiers at several points. Some of the original limestone was used in the amphitheatre stair landings. Most of the old limestone was stored and is being used for small landscaping projects around campus.
Two massive oak trees that shaded the area were preserved.
The Melvin Wall Amphitheatre rehabilitation project cost about $150,000. It remains the only outdoor amphitheatre on any Wisconsin college campus, and one of the few on a U.S. campus.