Neutra Dodges Gettysburg Bullet

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Cyclorama in 1962. (Photo: Lawrence S. Williams Inc. Photography/Courtesy National Park Service)

Preservationists have won a small victory in the long-running battle over Richard Neutra’s modernist Cyclorama building at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan told the National Park Service that it must fully comply with the National Environmental Policy Act before tearing down Neutra’s 1961 landmark. Preservationists filed a lawsuit in December 2006 arguing that the park service did not follow the law in its 1999 General Management Plan, where it was decided to raze the building.

Hogan’s ruling upholds a year-old recommendation from a federal magistrate that chided the park for not evaluating any alternatives besides demolition. According to an article in the Gettysburg Times, the government is reviewing the ruling before deciding its next step. The Cyclorama Center, completed under the National Park Service’s ambitious Mission 66 program, has had many supporters, including Neutra’s son, Dion. The building has been closed since 2008, after the large mural inside depicting Pickett’s Charge was moved to a new visitor facility on another part of the battlefield grounds. The park service wants to demolish the building in order to restore the landscape to its state during the famous 1863 battle. AN offered some possible alternatives for the structure earlier this year.

One Response to “Neutra Dodges Gettysburg Bullet”

  1. DION NEUTRA says:

    A Recent Battle won at Gettysburg?

    Cyclorama Project Architect Dion Neutra reacts to news that a Federal Judge has upheld an earlier opinion regarding the fate of the firm designed Cyclorama Center on the battlefield. His attorney worded it this way on Wednesday March 31:

    The wait is now over. This afternoon, Judge Hogan upheld all of the relevant portions of Judge Kay’s March, 2009 ruling. Put simply, this means the Park Service will need to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) before taking any action to demolish (or otherwise harm) the Cyclorama Center.

    Receipt of this news brought to mind a letter that was sent to me just a few days ago. The daughter of Carl Kaysen, an advisor to President Kennedy on nuclear disarmament, sent it to me. She was going through her father‘s papers on the occasion of his death last month. Rather than throw this material away, she sent several dozen letters in their original mailing envelopes for my review and possible filing in our archives.

    One of the letters was dated August 27, 1962. In it my father refers to the dedication upcoming that November of the newly completed project on the battlefield of Gettysburg. Its site was selected by the Park Service of that day to be within 100 yards of the spot where the famous ‘address’ was uttered by President Lincoln. In the letter dad refers to the project as ‘The Abraham Lincoln Memorial Museum’!

    In recent correspondence and a current petition addressed to President Obama, I, 48 years later, used just that title for a proposed re-purposing of our structure; that is to commemorate the most famous address ever uttered in the history of our country, and to serve as a repository for Lincoln Memorabilia in reference to Gettysburg and Pennsylvania in relationship to the battle fought there, and that famous address.

    From this letter, especially the last paragraph on the page, one can see how proud my father was of his recasting of his assignment from a narrow focus on the Civil War battle, to the broader opportunity of serving an eternal annual purpose; Conciliation and Reconsecration of our Basic Principles annually in the context of history as it unfolded in the world.

    Neutra’s vision was that on the anniversary of the ‘Address’, November 19, a world class orator would be invited to paraphrase Lincoln’s Speech with today’s version thereof, not to exceed 90 seconds in length! It would be given from our historic rostrum, which we designed into our structure, witnessed by 30,000 visitors assembled inside and out of the structure on the broad lawn before it, connected via broad sliding and swinging doors to open the museum to the grand out-of-doors.

    The cyclorama theater could be used to give context to this speech, as well as replay the battle on a day by day basis so that visitors get a context in which to view the great painting housed in a structure nearby. While at our site, by mounting the roof deck terrace they could gain a current day view of how the battlefield has changed over the years from the open fields that greeted the troups in 1863. A diorama within our museum space could depict the details of what this field looked like those many years ago, historic landscape intact, and absent any intrusions.

    I know my father in heaven would hope that this reprise would allow the Park Service to step back and reconsider its plan, and perhaps commission us to repurpose our building along the above lines. A whole generation of Americans who have visited this site over the years, 5000 of which have signed our petitions, would be grateful to see their tax-dollar-paid-for structure thus saved.

    Dion Neutra AIA, FISD, architect, Los Angeles March 31, 2010 650 words

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