Next weekend I’ll have the chance to see for myself something that’s been a long time in coming: the demolition of the old Cyclorama building at Gettysburg NMP. You can read a report and see pictures of the event here.
I first entered the Cyclorama building with my parents and my sister in 1967. At that time, it was the NPS headquarters for the park: the Electric Map and the museum in which it was housed were still in private hands. It had a small souvenir store and various displays, but the major attraction, obviously, was the Cyclorama itself. To see firsthand a painting which one had seen elsewhere in print was literally breathtaking; afterwards, we walked the special High Water Mark trail (I still have the booklet), including the road loop that went around the Armistead marker near the Bloody Angle (you can still see traces of that road, especially from aerial shots).
From there we hopped in the car (a 1962 white 2-door Valiant) and headed down to Little Round Top; I recall that my sister was wearing a styrofoam pith helmet (courtesy of a Shell gas station promotion) while I was decked out in my makeshift Union uniform (I did not know at the time that my ancestors who had served did so in Zouave units, which would have made a different sort of fashion statement).
The building served its purpose at the time it was built as a park headquarters (like several other park headquarters, notably First Manassas, its placement was in fact obtrusive), but it apparently did not do the job when it came to housing the Cyclorama properly. As time passed and the park acquired a new headquarters, the Cyclorama building became less a focal point of activity but remained an important stop, even if one did not always see the painting itself (the same was true of the Electric Map, by the way). Indeed, I will see the Cyclorama in its new location for the first time this month (I went through the museum several times before it became a pay-per-view enterprise).
With the opening of a new park headquarters that also housed the Cyclorama, the days of the old building were numbered. Those people who argued that it should remain standing as an example of the work of architect Richard Neutra were, to my mind, sadly mistaken, for Gettysburg NMP was not established to exhibit mid-twentieth century architecture that reminded me a bit of the buildings at the 1964-65 World’s Fair (most of which have also disappeared). Nevertheless, these people, aided by some bureaucratic missteps, were able to wage a delaying action that consumed some time. However, they did not prevail. In the meantime, the abandoned building had become something of an eyesore due in part to the NPS’s strategy of intentional neglect. Within a few months, it will be gone forever.
As with all change, even change that one favors, this change brings forth a small wave of nostalgia. The fact is that even as it commemorates what they did there in 1863, Gettysburg continues to change in ways that render the site different for those who have fond memories of this or that. In the end, I think these changes are for the better, but I can understand why people might not embrace them quite so readily.