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Historic Preservation: Death of a Richard Neutra Treasure

After Mark and Darren, today I am glad to introduce you to another of the new editors that will help Mid Century Home to further expand: Courtney Allison.

Allison will write about four really interesting topics that I wanted to cover since a while: Online/Offline Thrifting, Books about mcm, Historical preservation cases and will also take over the Biographies! I did cover those topics in the past but I hope with Allison to have it done properly finally.

Today will start with an Historic Preservation case. Enjoy and let us know your thoughts about this lost treasure, in the comments below!

Allison Says

As a mid-century modern architecture enthusiast, I am constantly trying to keep abreast of iconic modern properties in the news. A lot of the time, the news is delightful, especially when a piece of architecture makes it to historic status or is being restored. Occasionally though, you learn of a loss.

Many people know of the Battle of Gettysburg, which took place in 1863 at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This is obviously a very important piece of United States history. Not as many people know that in the same location of this legendary battle lives an iconic piece of architecture, by a very iconic architect – Richard Neutra.

Richard Neutra Gettysburg Cyclorama

I was unaware of the structure until recently, and upon further research, learned that the visitor’s center, designed by Neutra, was built to contain a 356- foot, two story tall cyclorama, painted in the 1880’s by French painter, Paul Dominique Philippoteaux, which portrayed the Battle of Gettysburg.

This lesser known property was conceived in 1962 after a 20-year dream of the Gettysburg  National Military Park administrators who desperately wanted to have a distinctive place to display the cyclorama in it’s full glory. During those two decades, many concerns arose about the planned location for the building. The primary concern, was that the cyclorama complex was located within park boundaries, which, in turn, would be an intrusion on the preservation of the battlefield.

Richard Neutra Gettysburg Cyclorama

Turns out, that initial concern would indeed be the downfall of the Richard Neutra Cyclorama. On January 10, 2013, the fate of the Neutra Cyclorama was sealed. For the last 14 years, the property has been in a preservation battle between history purists, wanting to restore the historic battlefield to it’s original state during the battle and architectural historians wanting to preserve a master architect’s lesser known work.

With the upcoming 150th anniversary of the battle, and the cost of restoring the building versus demolishing it, the National Park Service chose demolition.

Richard Neutra Gettysburg Cyclorama

It’s a shame, especially since there are so many people opposed to the demolition. Dion Neutra, Richard Neutra’s son, is appalled at the decision to destroy, rather than relocate the structure.  He, along with many others, had hopes that the building would be restored to its original state and be used to house the original cyclorama, as well as an Abraham Lincoln museum, which was the structure’s original intent.

Richard Neutra Gettysburg Cyclorama

Richard Neutra Gettysburg Cyclorama

‘The entire building is already built around the idea of the Gettysburg Address, Dion said. This is why the Cyclorama painting was housed on the second floor, he said, so that visitors wouldn’t have to think about war and the battle if they didn’t want to.’1

Dion is not giving up without a fight. A protest was planned by Richard Neutra’s son at the site of the Cyclorama on Sun. Feb. 24 but you can still join the protest, signing up at www.neutra.org.

You can also participate by signing the petition here.

1The Evening Sun, “Protest Planned at Old Cyclorama Building”, 2/14/13.