Lazy, Hazy, Shady Days Of Summer

The outdoor Greek-style Woodward Amphitheatre in Fresno, Calif., sat dormant for most of the last 15 years due to the area’s intense heat. Daytime temperatures reaching into the 100s made it impossible for residents to enjoy the venue.

City administrators turned to the folks at Shade Structures to help devise a plan to bring the amphitheatre back to life. “With this project, they were trying to accomplish aesthetics, shade from heat and UV protection,” says Jay Rivera, Vice President of Sales for Shade Structures.

The multi-level shade structure transformed the tired, dull, useless amphitheatre into one of the most sought-after venues in the city.

Consider Climate

From May through October, Fresno’s daytime temperatures are around 100 degrees. Without an ocean breeze, the nights don’t cool off much either--most evenings are in the 80-degree range.

“The only way the venue would work would be to shade in the facility,” says the city’s Parks Director Randy Cooper. “We needed to make a viable facility in a hot climate.”

Depending on fabric type and color, shade structures can provide a heat reduction of up to 30 degrees. And when the city’s fire department tested beneath the shade structure, there was a 30-degree difference.

Design Dynamics

Many factors come into play when putting together a shade structure of this size, and choosing a design can take anywhere from three months to a year.

The Woodward Park design was based on the logistics of the venue. It was built without many “uprights” so that shows could be held in the facility. Seating and walkways also were major factors. Multiple layers of shades were used, not only for aesthetics, but also for open views during performances or looking at the stars at night.

Visibility determined the number of beams used; although the original design called for six beams, it was reduced to four. They are strong enough to suspend speakers and lights, creating versatility for events.

The final design seats as many as 4,700 people in the shade.

Protecting Against The Sun

Along with heat, UV exposure from the California sun also was a concern. The heat reduction that comes with shade structures blocks 88 to 95 percent of harmful UV rays. The color of a shade structure is also helpful in blocking UV rays; Woodward Park uses terra cotta and desert-sand varieties.

The city also uses shade structures on its playgrounds because of their effectiveness in blocking the rays. Therefore, officials have decided to build future playgrounds with a shade structure.

Plural Performances

Now that the venue has been modified and the climate is no longer an issue, the Fresno Philharmonic Symphony, which had previously refused to play because the members feared instruments could warp, has moved the majority of its performances to the amphitheatre.

In addition to the Philharmonic, Woodward Park now hosts a variety of events, including baptisms, weddings, the Budweiser Comedy tour, graduations, church events and possibly even The Judds. The amphitheatre, which had only hosted a handful of performances per year, has now nearly 40 events annually.

“It provides a small, very intimate setting,” says Cooper. “Not everyone wants to go to a 17,000-seat facility.”

Shading Tips

Shade projects can be lengthy and expensive, but they do pay off in the long run. From start to finish, the Woodward Park project took a year and a half to complete, although the actual installation took about a month and a half. After sitting dormant for years, the new facility, with an additional $1 million investment, will finally produce a return.

Some things to consider when devising a plan for a shade structure include its intended usage, the climate, the size and heat intake of the structure.

· Make a budget. “Most companies will work with you in the design to make something that not only fits your needs, but stays within your budget as well,” says Rivera. He also recommends raising funds by researching the costs that will affect the overall design. Knowing more about shade structures and their purpose will help make sound decisions and possibly cut costs.

· Get cost points on each design, and consider feasibility. Workers need access as well as room to bring in equipment, including drill rigs and cranes. Some of the structures can weigh anywhere from one to two tons and may be up to 40 feet in the air.

Think about the bottom line. In a place as warm as Fresno, shading made a significant reduction in temperature, and allowed the venue to be used for various events. The facility has helped bring in revenue for the city’s parks and recreation department, providing a cash stream instead of a cash drain.

Heather Reichle is a freelance writer living in Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at