Nothing Lasts Forever

The old Cyclorama Building meets its Waterloo.

The old Cyclorama Building meets its Waterloo.

I went down to Gettysburg yesterday to do some work in the library at the visitor center and walk along the old trolley bed that circles around Devil’s Den, part of my research for an upcoming magazine article. It was an interesting day. As I was drove around the battlefield I listened the news reports from Rome, where a crowd of some 100,000 people were waiting in St. Peter’s Square for the announcement of the new Pope. On the battlefield I was passing over land where history had already happened as I heard about new history being made.

Before going to library I stopped to watch the work crews that were tearing down the old Cyclorama Building. Constructed in 1962 to house Paul Philippoteaux’s huge, 360-degree painting of the fighting on the battle’s third day, the building had outlived its usefulness once the Cyclorama had been removed for installation in the new visitor center. Some preservationists wanted to save the building but the park service was determined to tear it down and restore the landscape on Cemetery Ridge to something closer to its appearance in July 1863. Since I had never been inside the old Cyclorama Building I had no nostalgic ties to it and I was glad to hear that it was going away. The big concrete structure just didn’t belong there.

At the library I was amused to come across a quote from the building’s architect, Richard Neutra. Back in 1959 he said this about his design: “The building will last forever. Many honored guests will come here and many distinguished speaker[s] will speak. Their speeches must be brief because the building itself is most important and comes first. This building will be a shrine for many nations and the free world . . . . It is a building for eternity because it has deeper characters than any of the finest buildings  in the world.”


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