On-line Book
Book Cover to Mission 66 Visitor Centers. With image of Dinosaur NM Visitor Center, view from beneath ramp


Table of Contentss




Wright Brothers


Pertified Forest

Rocky Mountain

Cecil Doty



Appendix I

Appendix II

Appendix III

Appendix IV

Mission 66 Visitor Centers
Chapter 3
National Park Service Arrowhead

Visitor Center and Cyclorama Building
Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

The first three days of July 1863 confederate and union soldiers engaged in the bloodiest conflict ever waged on North American soil, a battle that would ultimately determine the outcome of the Civil War. Almost a hundred years later, the National Park Service attempted to provide adequate visitor facilities at the historic Gettysburg Battlefield. The Mission 66 staff had planned buildings for rugged alpine terrain, barren desert expanses, and spectacular canyon edges; Gettysburg National Military Park presented a greater challenge than even the most forbidding wilderness site. The park's physical remains alone—hundreds of monuments, stone walls, and abandoned farm buildings scattered across the landscape—could not recreate an event of such intangible yet dramatic national value.

It was the Park Service's job to help visitors understand the profound significance of this peaceful Pennsylvania countryside. Conrad Wirth, director of the National Park Service, and his fellow Mission 66 planners approved a location for the new visitor center in the midst of the battlefield, where visitors could view the notable topographical features of the Gettysburg campaign. Situated on a slight rise, the site nestled against Ziegler's Grove took advantage of a panoramic view facing the "High Water Mark" of Pickett's famous charge. The visitor center and cyclorama building would fulfill the Mission 66 mandate of "protection and use," by defining visitor areas and educating the public in battlefield etiquette. Richard J. Neutra, a native of Vienna, seemed surprised when the Park Service awarded his Los Angeles architectural firm the commission for a building on this most sacred site. In preparing his design, the renowned modernist architect and philosopher envisioned what future generations might make of the nineteenth-century legacy. He hoped that "the sad memory of an internal and still painful rift could, by the erection of a monumental building group on a battlefield and through its new dedication, commemorate what mankind must preserve as a common aim of harmony." [1]Like the Mission 66 planners and generations of Americans recovering from the world wars, Neutra viewed the cyclorama project as an opportunity to preserve national heritage.

When Neutra and his partner, Robert Alexander, began work on plans for the visitor center in 1958, major aspects of the design had already been determined. In fact, the history of the visitor center's seemingly modernist form, the concrete rotunda, can be traced back to an unusual type of nineteenth-century painting. French painter Paul Dominique Philippoteaux created several colossal cyclorama paintings in the 1880s, each of which measured the height of a two-story building and required mounting within a cylindrical structure for viewing. The cyclorama placed spectators in the center of a circle and completely surrounded them with the landscape and narrative of another world. The flat painted surface was energized by light, sound and, in some cases, a three-dimensional foreground that included artifacts related to the painted drama. [2] Philippoteaux visited Gettysburg in 1882, and over the next few years he and his assistants completed four versions of the famous battle. The preserved cyclorama, the second in the series, was painted in Paris in 1884. The Congress of Generals and Civil War veterans attended the cyclorama's opening on the twenty-second anniversary of the battle. After display in several locations, the painting was moved to Gettysburg in 1913 and privately owned until its acquisition by the National Park Service in 1941. A tile-covered building on North Cemetery Hill housed the cyclorama, but Superintendent McConaghie planned to move the painting to a better site and eventually to construct a suitable "interpretive center." The prerequisite for the commission was a cylindrical form large enough to contain the 356- by 28-foot canvas. [3]

Like the inspiration for a new cyclorama building, efforts to develop a comprehensive interpretive plan and a central visitor facility preceded the Mission 66 program. During its early years under the jurisdiction of the War Department, the battlefield was without a public museum or on-site exhibits; private guides competed for tourists to lead about the battlefield. [4] The Park Service inherited this system when it took over stewardship of the property in 1933. While the guides provided interpretation, New Deal projects supplied the man-power necessary to build roads and fences, clear land, and plant trees. The CCC helped with basic maintenance and landscaping projects from 1933 to 1942, and Public Works Administration funds covered architectural rehabilitation of selected historic structures classified into fifteen farm groups. In the meantime, the small Park Service staff concentrated on preserving historic properties, acquiring additional land surrounding the battlefield, and discouraging further commercial development in the vicinity. An automobile junk yard, several trash dumps, restaurants, and other modern establishments already compromised the character of the battlefield. [5]

Visitor Center and Cyclorama Building: showing rounded brick building that said "PICKETT'S CHARGE- FLY PHILIPPOTEAUX with two metal tanks in the background.
Figure 28. The cyclorama painting was housed in this ceramic tile-covered building on Baltimore Road before it was transferred to the new visitor center. The metal tanks in the background were not part of the Park Service facility.
(Courtesy Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.)

From their crowded rooms on the second floor of the Gettysburg Post Office, park administrators dreamed of a central facility to house the valuable cyclorama, new offices, and services for visitors. Throughout the 1940s, representatives from the regional office wrestled with the choice of a building site appropriate for the painting. Roy E. Appleman, the regional supervisor of historic sites, favored "the site off Hancock Avenue adjacent the Angle," which was "almost exactly on the spot from which the cyclorama was painted." As Appleman argued, "From here the most can be comprehended by the visitor if he is unable to go elsewhere." [6] The Hancock Avenue location was not only perfectly sited for imagining the events of the battle, but also a convenient distance from the National Cemetery and an ideal gathering place for tours. For the next four years, the Park Service would engage in careful planning and debate, weighing the importance of satisfactory visitor facilities against its commitment to protect the battlefield.

Although the Park Service had been actively working to preserve and restore the battlefield since its acquisition, all prospective sites for the new cyclorama complex were located within the park boundaries. Even as he recognized that, "a building of this size is of course an intrusion on any part of the field," Superintendent J. Walter Coleman favored the location on Hancock Avenue closest to Philippoteaux's perspective in the painting. [7] Park Historian Frederick Tilberg attempted to save certain parts of the battlefield and rejected several potential sites, including a location near the Angle that he considered "an objectionable intrusion upon historic ground." And yet, neither Tilberg nor his colleagues saw any contradiction in constructing a modern building on the battlefield they were mandated to preserve. The Ziegler's Grove site offered too many advantages. From this prominent prospect, the building would enjoy a spectacular view of the battlefield, serve as a beacon for visitors coming in from Highway 15, and stand within walking distance of the museum, the National Cemetery, and Meade's Headquarters. A facility amid the battlefield's ruins and monuments could provide unparalleled service to the visiting public. Tilberg wrote up a prospectus describing the benefits of the location, the very spot Mission 66 planners would remember when the new facility finally received adequate funding ten years later. [8]

While the wartime debate over the future site waged on, Park Service architects drafted plans for a "cyclorama-museum-administration building" to replace the old facility on the west side of Baltimore Road. Several proposals were completed over the next few months, each siting the building in the "High Water Mark Area" near Ziegler's Grove between Taneytown Road and Hancock Avenue. Five extant preliminary drawings suggest that Park Service architects struggled with the project's programmatic requirements: a vast circular space for the painting, offices, a museum, a lobby, maintenance rooms, and storage areas. All of the proposals chose to house the cyclorama painting in a separate room, but the shape of this space varied. The earliest drawing in this series presents the painting within a cylindrical dome and uses the entrance lobby as a corridor to attach a rectangular administration building. The second scheme houses the cyclorama in an heptagonal building, a form that allowed the administrative spaces to share the interior walls of a more compact facility. Another alternative returns to the cylinder for the painting, but locates administrative facilities in a two-story cubic building directly in front of the main building. At this point, architects appear to have developed composite designs from their preliminary drafts. One shows a dome encircled by a heptagonal observation deck and entered through an exterior administrative wing. The final extant scheme returns to the heptagonal form but groups all administrative functions in a ground floor below the cyclorama.

All of these preliminary design proposals show buildings that would have been considered modern. Except for severe strip or rectangular windows, they are without significant ornamentation. [9] Although the cyclorama structures varied in size and architectural style, they shared a similar location. The new facility would stand across the street from the previous cyclorama building and just a few feet from a 75-foot-tall steel observation tower. As the superintendent realized, the Ziegler's Grove site allowed an acceptable replication of the panoramic view depicted in Philippoteaux's masterpiece. When the painting was declared a national historic object by the Acting Secretary of the Interior in 1945, the building project received further incentive. Restoration of the painting by Richard Panzironi and Carlo Ciampaglia, a $10,000 project approved by Congress, was another step towards obtaining an appropriate facility. [10] According to Acting Director Arthur E. Demaray, "as a result of the cleaning and stabilization work, the preservation of the Cyclorama is now assured if funds to erect a modern building to house this important work of art become available reasonably soon." [11] Funding was not immediately forthcoming but, as a "sketch of proposed Cyclorama Building to replace structure on Baltimore Street" illustrates, planning for the museum continued into the 1950s.

The Mission 66 program enabled the Park Service to produce more detailed plans of the facility it had envisioned at Gettysburg for over a decade. The location of the visitor center was a top priority in the fall of 1956. Edward S. Zimmer, chief of the EODC, visited Gettysburg with Park Service engineer Moran and landscape architects Hanson and Peetz to "discuss location sites for the proposed visitor center" with the superintendent. [12] This "reconnaissance" trip preceded the office's plans for a preliminary visitor center design drafted in February 1957. Located at Cemetery Ridge, south of Ziegler's Grove, the building stood at the edge of the trees between the Meade Statue and Meade's Headquarters. A path led from the parking lot to the cylindrical concrete building. Although the frame was reinforced architectural concrete, the exterior of the cyclorama featured "insulated metal curtain walls and anodized aluminum perforated screen." Concrete ribs tapered down from the roof to the ground, dividing the metal screen into thirty sections. The lower floor offices and visitor facilities were differentiated by "an insulated metal curtain wall and glass." Inside, the first floor was divided into a series of pie-shaped wedges around the central core, the location of restrooms and mechanical spaces. From the lobby, visitors could enter the adjacent auditorium and exhibit rooms or proceed up the ramp wrapping around the central core to view the cyclorama painting on the second floor. A revolving platform took them on a tour of the painted battle scene. Interior walls were to be covered in wood paneling and plaster and the floors in terrazzo and vinyl. The drawings show the visitor center building enclosed within a square paved courtyard surrounded by low stone walls of a random masonry pattern. A path at the far western edge of the site leads to a viewing platform overlooking the battlefield. This square, reinforced concrete structure stands along the path leading from the visitor center to the Meade Statue.

preliminary drawing for a visitor center at Cemetery Ridge
Figure 29. Park Service architects produced this preliminary drawing for a visitor center at Cemetery Ridge, south of Ziegler's Grove, in February 1957. The firm of Neutra and Alexander was hired the next year.
(Courtesy National Park Service Technical Information Center, Denver Service Center.)

(click on image for larger size)

Whether Neutra and Alexander saw the Park Service drawings is unknown, but it was standard practice for the design offices to share such preliminary plans with their contract architects. [13] Perhaps more importantly, Mission 66 planners clearly articulated their general philosophy toward park sites, and such requirements became an essential aspect of the architects' program. The Mission 66 prospectus for Gettysburg was explicit about the "means to an end": the "preservation of the battlefield and its interpretation by more effective and modern means, each tempered with the dignity so necessary in presenting the area as a memorial, will contribute materially to the experience to be gained here." [14] Neutra and Alexander's design for the new visitor center would have to meet the criteria of both a sacred monument and a utilitarian public facility.

CONTINUED continued


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