Demolition Update: It’s One Down and One to Go at Gettysburg

A demolition crew tears away at Gettysburg’s old visitor center. NPS photo.

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.

Comments

Just tear the darn thing down already. It is a monstrosity, and by moving it , it will be a huge money pit. Where will this building be moved? What are the ramifications as fas as, tying up traffic, avoiding obsticals? How much more money will be needed to restore it once it's moved? Where will the funding come from? Hopefully not the tax payers. I do not want more of my hard earned money poured into another money pit.

Besides the National Tower, that "banjo" cyclorama has always been the most hideous thing on the field. Restore the historic character of the park to the 1860's and haul this "architecture" of the 1960's out with the trash. There must be a deserving landfill somewhere closeby.

Pesonally I'm no fan of the Cyclorama building at all, but if we truly consider ourselves historians then we must give credence to the argument that the building has historical significance based on the importance placed on the design by architechtural historians. Does it need to leave Zieglers Grove, no doubt, would it be a better alternative to move it instead of tearing it down, no doubt. The NPS is responsible for the irresponsible placement of the building on those grounds, they should take partial financial responsibility for it's movement to another location. That's where the art architechural purists need to get involved, raise some money, purchase some land and partially fund it's transfer to those grounds.