Daily Archives: August 29, 2012

The Cyclorama building is another step closer to demolition

In 2010 a judge ordered Gettysburg National Military Park to re-evaluate its plan to demolish the Cyclorama building.  The park just finished that review, and tearing it down remains the best option as far as the NPS is concerned.  The Recent Past Preservation Network is apparently putting together a response.

For whatever it’s worth, I wouldn’t miss it.  Its removal would help conform the landscape more closely to its 1863 appearance, which is the park’s primary preservation aim.  The painting has a new home in the visitor center, so as of now, the building is an empty shell that doesn’t really serve any interpretive function.  The architect’s son would like to see it turned into a Lincoln museum, but since the visitor center exhibit has pretty thorough coverage of the Gettysburg Address and the larger context of the war, another display doesn’t seem like the best use of a crucial piece of battleground.

And aesthetically…well, this pretty much comes down to personal taste, but to me it looks like some sort of sacred kiva built by ancient aliens, which isn’t the kind of thing that seems at home on a Civil War battlefield.

Cue Richard Strauss fanfare from 2001: A Space Odyssey

Still, I can see where the building’s supporters are coming from.  It’s an interesting example of twentieth-century architecture, and it’s been there so long that it’s sort of a Gettysburg institution.  The whole situation is reminiscent of the Electric Map ruckus.  You’ve got an interpretive tool that’s outlived its original purpose—in fact, it’s standing in the way of advancing the park’s long-term goals—but the tool itself has become so venerable that some people see it as an integral part of what makes the site such a special place.  In other words, when you have a longstanding connection to a particular historic site, the individual level of personal and sentimental memory gets woven into the larger fabric of collective, historical memory.

Of course, sentiment isn’t the only point at issue; opponents of demolishing the building argue that it’s got enough architectural significance to make it inherently valuable.  Thus we have an unusual situation in which some of us history buffs oppose a preservation effort, albeit with the aim of restoring the landscape around it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Civil War, Historic Preservation