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Gettysburg Cyclorama Center Supporters Try New Approach To Save It

Deborah Fitts

(May 2007) GETTYSBURG, Pa. - Demonstrating a dogged determination, supporters of the circular 1962 building housing the Cyclorama painting have gone to court to stop officials at Gettysburg National Military Park from knocking it down.

A small group, the Recent Past Preservation Network (RPPN), filed suit Dec. 6 in federal court in Washington against the National Park Service, charging the agency with "multiple violations" of federal law in their plans to tear down the building.

The effort to save the Cyclorama building is led by Dion Neutra, son and professional partner of the late architect Richard Neutra, who designed the structure. Dion was joined in the suit by RPPN President Christine Madrid French, a Neutra scholar.

For several years the group has fought the park's plans to raze the building and restore adjacent Ziegler's Grove to its wartime appearance. The painting itself will move this spring to a new Cyclorama gallery at the visitor center and museum being built off Hunt Avenue. It will be closed to the public for another year during a multi-million-dollar restoration.

RPPN Vice President Devin Coleman said in a Web posting that the organization has abandoned its earlier effort to force the park to keep the Neutra building in place. A 1999 ruling by the federal Advisory Council for Historic Preservation stated that restoration of the battlefield came before the building.

Instead, Coleman said, the group's "new approach" is to force the park to save the building until someone can relocate it off the battlefield, somewhere in Gettysburg, and then restore it and put it to a new use.

Coleman said the group had recently discovered that the building was one of "only four remaining historic cyclorama buildings in the nation," which "makes its preservation of the utmost importance."

Neutra was a prominent modernist architect. He designed the Cyclorama Center for the National Park Service's Mission 66 decade-long effort to upgrade facilities for the agency's 50th anniversary in 1966.

The Recent Past Preservation Network says it has support and interest in relocating the building in Gettysburg and has identified suitable land. The group says the Park Service has not responded to its calls or letters in more than two years.

Park spokesman Katie Lawhon declined to comment on the lawsuit. The park will continue to use the Cyclorama Center for office space - and visitor services during the summer season - until 2009, when plans are to demolish it.

RPPN is a nonprofit, volunteer organization devoted to preserving examples of modern architecture less than a half-century old. According to RPPN, the other three cyclorama buildings are in Buffalo, Atlanta and Boston.

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