The Gettysburg Cyclorama building is no more
The Philadelphia Inquirer
The Gettysburg Cyclorama building is history.
In a cloud of concrete dust, the 50-year-old battlefield landmark came tumbling down Saturday after a 14-year struggle over its fate.
At once reviled by Civil War buffs and beloved by fans of modern architecture, the circular structure, designed by the world-famous architect Richard Neutra, was built to house the massive Cyclorama painting depicting the Battle of Gettysburg's most important moment.
By design, it occupied a prime piece of real estate on the battlefield, marking the Union line on Cemetery Ridge where Northern troops repelled Confederate forces during the climactic clash known as Pickett's Charge on the battle's final day, July 3, 1863.
The National Park Service moved forward with demolition plans last year after completing a court-ordered review of options for the building -- and ahead of the commemoration this summer of the 150th anniversary of the battle.
Katie Lawhon, spokeswoman for the Gettysburg National Military Park, said that by the time thousands arrive in early summer for the anniversary events, grass will be growing on the Cyclorama's site once again.
There was little nostalgia for the building evinced by a group of longtime battlefield aficionados, who braved a stiff wind Friday afternoon to survey the gaping holes in the facade that bulldozers had punched last week.
"It had outlived its usefulness," said Jim Cooke, a licensed battlefield guide.
The movement to restore the site to its battle-era appearance gained traction two decades ago, replacing the park service philosophy that existed at the time the Cyclorama building was commissioned: to put prominent, visitor-friendly buildings at the heart of historic landscapes, in order to attract more people.
Michael Waricher of Carlisle, Pa., an amateur Civil War historian, was born in 1963, the year the building was completed.
"I've never seen the battlefield without it," said Waricher, who visits the battlefield every week and chronicles developments on his Facebook page. "It's in the wrong place; it doesn't belong on the ridge. Removing it will restore meaning to the battlefield."
Devotees of modern architecture beg to differ. Led by the late architect's son, Dion, they mounted a global campaign to save the structure, winning a spot in 2006 on the World Monuments Fund's list of threatened structures.
Bonnie Burnham, the New York-based nonprofit fund's president, said the Cyclorama structure was of "huge symbolic value" and was one of the most monumental works of an architect better known for his residential and institutional buildings.
"Neutra had a vision for the site, of people coming together to consider the cost of war," she said Monday.
Burnham said the park service was shortsighted in tearing down a building that is not in favor today but could be recognized for its importance 50 years from now.
"Who knows whether people will subscribe to the same ideas then as they do today?" she said, adding that hundreds of monuments scattered on the battlefield were erected after the battle, too.
The building was abandoned in 2008 when the historic 27-foot-high, 377-foot-long Cyclorama painting depicting Pickett's Charge was removed for restoration and eventually relocated in the new visitor center, about a mile away.
Demolition of the building was delayed in 2010 after a federal judge ruled that the park service had failed to complete a review of alternatives to tearing it down. The park service looked at options such as mothballing or moving the building, but determined that it would move forward with the $3.8 million, privately funded demolition.
Sometime next year, the park service hopes to begin reshaping the ground at the site to follow battle-era topography and installing replica wooden post-and-rail fences, returning the area to the way it looked in July 1863, when Union troops set up their artillery positions overlooking the fields.