At Gettysburg National Military Park, the NPS has long planned to remove the old visitor center and the Cyclorama Building so an important part of the battlefield could be restored to its historic appearance. The old visitor center is now being knocked down and toted away, but preservationists have gotten a stay of execution for the Cyclorama Building.
It’s easy to understand why the Park Service wants to restore the Ziegler’s Grove area of the Gettysburg battlefield to its historic appearance. Heavy fighting on July 2-3, 1863, left some 900 soldiers dead or wounded there, so it’s certainly hallowed ground. And that’s not all. It’s in the center area of the Union’s battle line. From Ziegler’s Grove (the only significant stand of trees in this part of the battlefield in 1863) you have a panoramic view of the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy,” the fateful place where Pickett’s Charge peaked, faltered, and then fell apart.
The fact that two of the park’s most important structures were situated at Ziegler’s Grove has bothered the Park Service and many Civil War buffs for decades. One, the park’s visitor center, is a 1920s-built tourist attraction/residence that the NPS acquired and repurposed in the early 1970s. The other is the Cyclorama Building, which opened in 1962 and until recently housed a renowned (and now refurbished) Gettysburg Battle cyclorama that is now at the park’s new visitor center.
Speaking of the park’s new visitor center, the opening of the $103 million Museum and Visitor Center last September at a site well removed from fought-over ground was supposed to clear the way to a swift and certain historic restoration of the Ziegler’s Grove site. But there’s been a glitch.
Removal of the old visitor center is not the rub. As the accompanying photo shows, that’s essentially a done deal. The Gettysburg Foundation put up the money for the job, and for that we owe a vote of thanks.
The problem lies with the vacant Cyclorama Building, which has been on the NPS demolition schedule since 1996. While it’s true that it’s situated where it doesn’t belong – there’s pretty strong agreement on that – the Richard Neutra-designed structure is architecturally significant. Federal judge Alan Kay recently sided with preservationists and ruled that the NPS must prepare an EIS and carefully consider alternatives to demolition.
We’ll know bye and bye whether the Cyclorama Building is to stay where it is, get moved to a new site, or get hauled away as rubble. Place your bets. I’m putting my money on removal. That’s speaking from the heart as well as from the head, because I feel that there’s something basically right and proper about putting trees, fence lines, orchards, meadows, and other landscape features back in that very special place on America’s most important battlefield.