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My Visit to Richard Neutra’s Cyclorama at Gettysburg

September 2007

While working with the US National Park Service on another project, I became aware in 2007 of the imminent demise of Richard Neutra’s 1961 Lincoln Memorial at Gettysburg.  Commissioned by the US National Park Service as a living memorial to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the Cyclorama had long served as a park visitor center and stage for a monumental diorama depicting the pivotal battle of the Civil War. Opened just in time for the Civil War Centennial, the Center consisted of a sweeping, light-filled causeway that led to a large, drum-shaped white concrete building meant to house the 360-degree painting of the infamous Gettysburg battlefield.

The diorama had already been removed by conservators for transfer to the new interpretive center, but the building and grounds were open for curious visitors.  I found the site to be a sleek and modern expression of Neutra’s optimistic vision of peaceful resolution and the power of conflict resolution through oratory in the context of Cold War anxiety.

In 2006, the Cyclorama was listed by the World Monument Fund as an endangered building and the following year, the National Park Service announced impending demolition to make way for a larger, state-of-the-art visitor center. The demolition plan was blocked by a lawsuit filed by a coalition led by the Recent Past Preservation Network in conjunction with Dion Neutra, the architect son and professional partner of Richard Neutra.

The project remains tied up by a subsequent ruling by the US District Court requiring the NPS to undertake a site-specific environmental analysis on the demotion and to consider alternatives locations and in 2010, two Gettysburg businessmen came forward with offers of open land for relocating the building to another site.

Stay tuned for updates!