Archive of Prominent Section 106 Cases:
Pennsylvania: New Visitor Center & Museum Complex (Gettysburg National Military Park)
Agency: National Park Service
Criteria for Council Involvement:
- This undertaking will impact a nationally significant property, Gettysburg National Military Park, and will result in the demolition of an exceptionally significant property from the recent past, the Cyclorama Building (Criterion 1).
- Policy questions have been raised regarding reconciling competing resource values in the public interest (Criterion 2).
- There has been substantial public controversy
In May 1999, the Council issued a report, A Problem of Common Ground, which endorsed the National Park Service (NPS) proposal to remove the Cyclorama Building (in anticipation of constructing a new visitor center complex) as part of its larger restoration of the historic battlefield landscape at Gettysburg National Military Park. A copy of the report was formally transmitted to Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt in light of the special interest he has shown in the matter.
In her transmittal letter, Chairman Slater noted the unfortunate loss of the National Register-eligible Cyclorama Building as a consequence of the difficult decisions faced by the park, but provided the text of the report as evidence of the Councilís careful deliberations regarding this conflict among competing cultural resource values. The report was developed by the Council member working group tasked by Chairman Slater with providing policy guidance on this issue. Herbert Franklin, on behalf of the working group, presented the findings of the report to the full membership of the Council at its June meeting.
Based on the policy direction set by the report, the Council is now consulting with the park, the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), and the interested public to develop a Memorandum of Agreement that provides for mitigation measures to help compensate for the loss of the Cyclorama Building and appropriate restoration measures for the historic battlefield landscape and the Cyclorama painting. While such an agreement would accept the concept of a new visitor center and museum complex as an integral part of the parkís broader proposals, full Section 106 review for construction of the complex will take place in the future, in the early stages of planning for that project.
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. (The painting carries the unique designation of a National Historic Object pursuant to the Historic Sites Act of 1935.) 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, 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.
Cyclorama Building, Gettysburg National Military Park
For Section 106 purposes, the park had reached consensus with the Pennsylvania SHPO early in the planning process that the Cyclorama Building, like the existing visitor center, was ineligible for listing on the
National Register. However, the Society of Architectural Historians challenged that determination, and the Council referred the issue to the Keeper of the National Register. The Keeper determined that the property, built between 1958 and 1962, is exceptionally significant despite being less than 50 years old because of its association with the NPS "Mission 66" construction program and with the building's well-known architect, Richard Neutra.
Chairman Slater acknowledged both the importance of Gettysburg to the American public and the conflicts among competing resource values that must be addressed by appointing a 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) participated in site visits, consultation meetings, and discussions concerning the broader implications of these important proposals.
The fate of the Cyclorama Building confronts 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 larger context of NPS plans to utilize a public-private partnership for development of the new visitor center. This plan has proven controversial, dividing the public between those who seek new strategies for meeting the fiscal and visitor needs of the park and those who argue that such strategies could conflict with the park's historic values. These issues will be addressed as part of Section 106 review for the visitor center's construction.
Staff contact: Martha Catlin
April 1999 report on this case
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