Though its groundbreaking occurred fifty years ago, there is no question that architect Richard Neutra's Cyclorama building belongs on the National Historic Register. The Cyclorama is one of the finest examples of (now misleadingly named) modernist architecture, a bygone style of building which brings to mind what Americans of the fifties thought the future might look like:
Unfortunately, the future is now, and they're not making buildings of the fifties modernist post-bauhaus style, certainly nothing as impressive as the Cyclorama. From an architectural perspective, the Cyclorama is a treasure, especially in a country where descendants of Europeans have only been putting up buildings for four hundred years.
There is a problem: The Cyclorama sits on sacred ground. It defiles that ground. So it must be knocked down.
If you think I'm trying for irony here, think again. The land on which the Cyclorama sits is sacred to anyone who cares about American history. It sits on the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg, overlooking the ground on which Pickett's charge, the "high water mark of the Confederacy" and the beginning of a "new birth of freedom" took place.
The Cyclorama, built to mark the 100th anniversary of the Civil War, is an abomination where it sits. The building contains a revolving mural depicting the events of the battle at Gettysburg (its equally impressive Confederate equivalent sits in Atlanta), and though it was meant as honest tribute, on that field it's as inappropriate as putting a giant model spaceship, enclosing a planetarium, in old Florence to commemorate the birth of Galileo. But that was then. In 1961 commemoration was all, while preservation was not so important.
Now the United States has done a lousy job of preserving landmarks of its history. We're not even as good as Russia, which held back from demolishing St. Basil's Cathedral to make way for the apartments of the New Soviet Man, when a few people gave their freedom in protest. We're trying to do better. Though we can't restore the battlefield at Manassas/Bull Run, which is now covered with DC sprawl and strip malls, the United States Park Service still owns most of the Gettysburg battlefield. And it's trying to do better. It wants to restore the battlefield to its original condition. Doing that means, among other things, knocking down the Cyclorama.
Or does it? The Cyclorama is a minor historical treasure compared to Gettysburg, but it's treasure nonetheless. The Parks Service has, to date, refused to consider moving it, or even allowing someone else to move it. Yesterday, a federal court rebuked the Parks Service for refusing to consider it, but suggested that the building, ultimately, can be demolished: Just as soon as the Parks Service prints a document stating that it considered removal and decided against it.
If the attorneys for the Parks Service have any sense, they'll suggest bypassing appeal, and just putting out a statement that they've considered removal and found it unfeasible, and knock it down anyway. In this case, the Parks Services seems to have a great deal of respect for older American history, but little for recent, and none for art. The Parks Service, like all government agencies, is stubborn. Likely the Holder Justice Department, tasked with the matter of whether one beautiful building of a type now almost unique is moved or demolished, will just delegate the job to the Junior Associate Appellate AUSA in Charge of Parks, and move on with the important work of fixing (or further ruining, depending on your views) the auto industry.
Unless Important People are made aware of the problem. This will be the second time, this year, that I've done something so naive as to suggest, "Write your congressman!" but there's only one Cyclorama, just as there's only one Gettysburg. In a hundred years, one will exist and the other probably won't.