Cyclorama Center

World Monuments Watch
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, United States

2006 World Monuments Watch

In 1956, the National Park Service (NPS) launched Mission 66, a ten-year initiative aimed at improving visitor services at national parks with new facilities and infrastructure. Richard Neutra (1892-1970), an Austrian emigrant to the US who was an advocate for international-style modern architecture, was commissioned to design a new home for the Gettysburg Cyclorama. Cycloramas, 360-degree panoramic paintings, were popular attractions in the late-nineteenth century. In 1883, French artist Paul Philippoteaux completed a massive painting of Pickett's Charge, the famous last battle of Gettysburg. After touring, one of the four versions of the painting went on display in Gettysburg in 1913; it was purchased by the National Park Service in 1942. The Cyclorama Center designed by Neutra opened in 1963 on the centennial of the Battle of Gettysburg at Ziegler's Grove, the site of Pickett's Charge. The imposing building was a concrete and glass cylindrical drum, 109 meters (358 feet) in circumference and 8 meters (26 feet) high, overlooking the battlefield. The structure was not well-maintained and water leakage damaged the painting as well as the building. A new building housing the restored painting opened in spring 2008. Neutra's Cyclorama Center was slated for demolition so that the battle site, considered by many to be hallowed ground, could be restored to its 1863 appearance. The Recent Past Preservation Network, an education and advocacy organization that focuses on significant sites of the past 50 years, mounted a campaign to highlight the case of the Cyclorama Center. The group contended that the Cyclorama's demolition would establish a dangerous precedent, endorsed by a government agency, for disregarding mid-century modern architecture. Placing the Cyclorama Center on the 2006 Watch has helped bring international attention to the plight of postwar architecture.

Since the Watch

After a complaint by the nominator, the Recent Past Preservation Network, a court decision in March 2009 ruled that Gettysburg National Military Park had not followed the proper procedure specified in the National Environmental Protection Act and in the National Historic Preservation Act in developing plans to demolish the Cyclorama Center. The decision was appealed by the NPS, but it was upheld in March 2010. In April 2010 a federal judge ruled that the NPS must reconsider its decision to raze the building before demolishing the structure. The NPS prepared an environmental impact statement, which involved the evaluation of alternatives to demolition. The alternatives included preservation and re-use of the building or relocation to a new site. Following the completion of the study in August 2012, the NPS determined that none of the other options were suitable. On January 3, 2013, the NPS announced its plan to demolish the structure. It was demolished in March of that year.

Last updated:
April 2013

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