Eyesore or icon? Old Gettysburg Cyclorama building slated for wrecking ball

A historic building, on historic grounds, will be demolished in Gettysburg this winter.

The Cyclorama building was erected in 1962, on part of the site where the pivotal Civil War battle was fought in 1863.

The fight over the building’s fate now pits 20th-century preservationists against 19th-century preservationists.

The Cyclorama is a round building designed to display a renowned 360-degree painting by Paul Philippoteaux that depicts the Confederate attack known as Pickett’s Charge on the last day of the battle. The building was designed by Richard Neutra, one of the most important architects of 20th century modernism.

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In 1999 the National Park Service decided to raze the building and restore the grounds on Cemetery Ridge to their look during the battle. Some architectural preservationists cried foul, and took the NPS to court. The Recent Past Preservation Network argued that the building could be moved to a new location.

The Park Service countered that the cost of relocation is prohibitively high. This week a federal court finally approved the Park Service’s environmental assessment, clearing the way for demolition and site rehabilitation at a cost of $3,380,000.

The painting, which also has three-dimensional diorama elements in the foreground, has been restored and moved to Gettysburg’s new visitors center, which is not on the battlefield. The rest of the building will be scrapped.

“The NPS was in contact with a number of architectural preservation organizations and collectors that keep architectural features, to see if there were elements of the building that these collectors would be interested in,” said Katie Lawhon, spokesperson for the Park Service. “None of the organizations has been interested in receiving any of the features inside the building.”

Lawhon says the building site will feature five monuments that had been put there by surviving soldiers of the Civil War, before the Cyclorama was built, as well as a restored Ziegler’s Ravine, a topographical feature of the land that played a role in how the Battle of Gettysburg was fought.

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