Archive of Prominent Section 106 Cases:
Pennsylvania: Visitor Center and Museum Complex, Gettysburg National
(Click here for the latest update on this case)
Having established that the Cyclorama Building at Gettysburg National Military Park is eligible for the National Register, the National Park Service (NPS) initiated formal consultation with the Council and the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO). NPS also notified the public that the effects of the Park’s proposals on this previously unrecognized historic property would be considered in the Section 106 consultation process.
Council Chairman Slater acknowledged the importance of the Park to the American public and the conflicts among competing resource values that must be addressed by appointing a three-member working group of Council members to provide policy guidance to the staff. To that end, working group members Bruce Judd (expert member), Parker Westbrook (citizen member), and Herbert Franklin (representing the Architect of the Capitol) have participated in site visits, consultation meetings, and discussions concerning the broader implications of these important proposals. They will report their findings to the full membership at the June Council meeting. (Click here for the report.)
NPS proposes to construct a new Visitor Center and Museum Complex at Gettysburg National Military Park. The proposal has been paired with a plan to demolish the existing visitor center and the Cyclorama Building. The Cyclorama Building, with its drum-shaped exhibition theater, was named for the painting it was designed to exhibit: a panoramic depiction of the pivotal Civil War battle action, Pickett’s Charge.
Cyclorama Building, Gettysburg National Military Park
The Park favors removal of the structures, not expressly to make way for the proposed new complex, but to restore the historic landscape where the buildings stand. As part of a broad program of landscape restoration, the Park proposes to restore the area, traditionally known as Ziegler’s Grove, which was a pivotal site of the battle.
In turn, the new visitor center and museum, which would exhibit the Cyclorama painting and house the Park’s extensive collections, would be sited where research indicates there were no important battle-related events. These proposals build upon fundamental planning decisions in the Park’s Land Protection Plan of 1993. That document also commits the park to eventual demolition of the Gettysburg Tower, a structure whose construction was bitterly opposed by preservationists in the 1970s and which prompted the Council to prepare formal recommendations on the Park’s need to plan for preservation into the future.
For Section 106 purposes, the Park had reached consensus with the Pennsylvania SHPO early in the planning process that both the Cyclorama Building and the existing visitor center were ineligible for listing on the National Register. In March, however, the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) challenged that determination, and the Council referred the issue of the eligibility of the Cyclorama Building to the Keeper of the National Register. In September 1998, the Keeper determined that the property, built between 1958 and 1962, is exceptionally significant despite being less than 50 years old due to its association with NPS’s Mission 66 construction program and with the building’s well-known architect, Richard Neutra.
The fate of the Cyclorama Building has confronted the Council with a particularly vexing challenge as it weighs the relative merits of two preservation outcomes: restoration of the historic landscape of the battleground versus protection and continued use of an architectural expression of exceptional importance. The issue is playing out within the context of NPS’s plans for utilizing a public-private partnership for development of the new visitor center. This plan has proven controversial, dividing the public between those that encourage new strategies for meeting the fiscal and visitor needs of the Park with those that argue commercial enterprises could be incompatible with the Park’s historic values.
Staff contact: Martha Catlin
October 1998 report on this case
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