Thursday, October 9, 2008
Here’s a fascinating story that, blissfully, has nothing to do with housing. Which is more important: preservation of an historic location, or preservation of an historic building? According to the National Park Service, in Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, the history of the battleground must take precedence. This is why it wants to demolish the 1962 building that once held the magnificent 19th century cyclorama painting of the climactic battle (which in effect served as a visual documentary before the video age). The building is a mid-century modernist structure, which seems somewhat jarring to today’s more conservative sensibilities, and it stands incongruously on Cemetery Ridge, on a location where many died on both sides as the Union Army definitively pushed backed the final rebel charge. Buildings shouldn’t be on such ground, the Park Service reasons. Indeed, the government used eminent domain to buy and then demolish in 2000 an enormous private-attraction tower that once loomed over the battlefield (see a cool 8-second video here).
But the story (like the Civil War, itself, some say) can be painted from a different perspective. The now-unoccupied building is not just any old structure, but one of the most notable by Richard Neutra, a notable 20th century modernist, most of whose buildings are in the West. The Park Service commissioned the building as part of a famous plan to attract more visitors to national parks (in an age in which buildings and parking lots were seen as the way to attract tourists). Moreover, it appears that one reason that it isn’t listed on the National Register of Historic Places is that the today’s Park Service argued against inclusion. For a contention that every generation desires to tear down the previous generation’s architecture, and that every next generation then regrets it, see here. A lawsuit is pending, of course.
A win-win solution would be to move the building to another location. But such an operation would be difficult and would cost a lot of money, something that the government is a little short of right now. Hey, did the $700-billion bailout bill include any pork for the Gettysburg Park?
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