The Gettysburg Cyclorama building, which housed the Paul Philippoteaux 1883 cyclorama painting depicting the Pickett-Pettigerew assault, stood in Ziegler’s grove for 50 years. It’s gone now, the “victim” as some might say, of over a decade of rigorous campaigning by proponents of battlefield restoration. There is no need to retell the story of the building’s 2013 demise – plenty have done that before me. Suffice it to say that the battlefield preservationists who wanted to restore that section of the Union line to its 1863 condition were met with stiff opposition from a very vocal group of people who deemed the building a significant historical landmark. I belong to the former group. I found the building to be an intrusive distraction in terms of battlefield interpretation, much like the old observation tower – the Gettysburg National Tower – that came down in 2000.
But I’ll admit that the building had its merits. For one, it was a beautiful example of mid-century architecture, designed by none other that Richard Neutra. Let’s just say that I am a fan of his work and aspire to one day own one of his creations. Second, this building was in some ways part of the Gettysburg commemorative landscape, playing a vital role in how Americans (read: tourists) interpreted the battle. If you’ve read my work you will know that I find commemorative efforts fundamentally significant in terms of national memory.
But despite its many virtues, I still interpreted the building as more in line with the Gettysburg commercial landscape – like the National Tower, the old rail system that moved people around the park, and various other attractions that generated revenue while altering the terrain and vistas…many of which are long (and rightfully) gone. Still…in some ways (not all) I was sad to see the Gettysburg cyclorama building go. I have some very fond memories of that place – I wrote part of my UCLA senior thesis within its walls. I used to enjoy sitting on the observation deck admiring both the spectacular views and the mid-century modern styling of the building itself. I guess I just have a sentimental weakness for cool looking buildings. But in the end, the Gettysburg NMP is better off without it. I think there is room for one more ghost on that ridge – and now students of the battle can better grasp how the terrain looked in July 1863, and thus better understand the history of those bloodiest of days.