The Atlanta Preservation Center (APC) released an Advocacy Alert regarding the Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum located in Grant Park. Faced with various problems in keeping this incredible resource of Atlanta history available to the public since it was donated to the city in 1898 (mostly problems with deterioration and upkeep) today the Cyclorama faces a new crisis. City officials are considering relocation of the painting to another site.
Rumors have swirled in preservation circles recently regarding this landmark. Zoo Atlanta could certainly use the land and the space which some estimates place upwards of $20 million. What entity will stand up and purchase the Cyclorama? The Georgia Trust? The Atlanta History Center? Its fate lies in the hands of city officials who are obviously controlled by the fingers of Mayor Kasim Reed. What is his plan? Here’s the Advocacy Alert from the Atlanta Preservation Center including a few notes from History Atlanta in parenthesis:
The Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum has been a Grant Park institution for nearly 125 years. The 360-degree circular painting known as the Cyclorama is the world’s largest historic oil painting. It depicts the Battle of Atlanta, a pivotal Civil War battle fought in the areas surrounding the park. While preservation of the painting itself is an ongoing concern, the imminent threat facing the Cyclorama is its removal from its historic building and home in Grant Park, which is on the National Register and a part of the Historic Grant Park District.
The painting was created in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin studios of the American Panorama Company. It was originally commissioned by a Union army officer, General John A. Logan, who was involved in the Atlanta campaign in 1864 (Logan was a staff member under General William Tecumseh Sherman).
General Logan ran unsuccessfully for President in 1894 and used the painting as a political advertisement of his military heroism. The painting toured several large cities in 1887 and changed owners several times before it was purchased by Atlanta businessman George V. Gress in 1893 (Gress also donated the first animals to Zoo Atlanta).
Gress gave the painting to the City of Atlanta in 1898 and it was initially housed in a wooden building within Grant Park. In the early 20th century, concerns about preservation of the painting prompted the City to provide a fire proof building.
This new structure, designed by Atlanta architect John Francis Downing and dedicated in 1921, is where the painting resides today. Although slightly reduced from its original size, at 42 feet high and 358 feet long it remained the largest oil painting in the world (until 2004 when it was surpassed by a mural in the Kalamazoo Air Zoo in Michigan). Our painting is also the largest one of three in the United States (another depicts the Battle of Missionary Ridge; we could not locate information on the third, but it could reside at Gettysburg); only 16 still exist throughout the world.
Artists from the Works Progress Administration created a diorama for the painting in 1936. The diorama provided a three-dimensional foreground to the action depicted in the painting. It blends seamlessly with the painting and adds greater context to the wartime action that occurred surrounding its present home.
The diorama includes plaster figurines (one is painted in the likeness of Clark Gable, star of “Gone With The Wind”) and site-specific details such as railroad tracks. The Museum’s collection continued to expand with the addition of the locomotive Texas donated in 1927, made famous by the Andrews Raid (Great Locomotive Chase) of 1862.
From 1979-1981 the painting underwent an $11 million restoration to treat deterioration and water damage. The diorama and Museum building were simultaneously repaired and modified before a June 1982 reopening.
The Atlanta Preservation Center and the Grant Park Neighborhood Association feel that the painting is intimately linked to its current surroundings by its subject matter and by the proximity of Fort Walker, one of the few remaining earthworks which formed part of the defenses of Atlanta and which is located behind the historic Cyclorama building.
The park occupies land donated to the City of Atlanta by Lemuel Pratt Grant, the Confederate engineer who surveyed and designed the fortifications around the City. Removal of the painting would eliminate visitors’ convenient geographic access to the Battle’s context, as well as the neighborhood’s local businesses and heritage tourism industry. Many thanks to M.H. Mitchell, Inc. for the images.
UPDATE: City of Atlanta News Release
Mayor Kasim Reed Announces Relocation and Restoration of Atlanta Cyclorama
Atlanta History Center to care for historic painting, 1921 building to be restored by Zoo Atlanta
ATLANTA – Mayor Kasim Reed was joined today by Atlanta History Center President and CEO Sheffield Hale and Zoo Atlanta President and CEO Raymond King to announce the relocation and restoration of the historic Atlanta Cyclorama painting. The move, which will take two years to complete, will relocate The Battle of Atlanta painting, the locomotive “Texas,” and other Civil War artifacts to the Atlanta History Center where they will be restored and housed in a new state-of-the-art facility. The existing Cyclorama building will be developed into a premier community and event space as part of upgrades by Zoo Atlanta. The announcement was made as the city commemorates the 150th Anniversary of The Battle of Atlanta.
“The relocation of the Atlanta Cyclorama to the History Center represents a unique opportunity to renew one of the city’s most important cultural and historic landmarks,” said Mayor Kasim Reed. “Under the stewardship of the History Center, the Cyclorama will continue to be a teaching tool, and will be enjoyed by a broader audience of residents, students and visitors alike.”
The Atlanta Cyclorama will relocate to a custom-built annex at the History Center. The 23,000 square foot addition is planned for the northeast corner of the campus and will be connected to the current Atlanta History Museum. The structure will be built to meet appropriate museum quality standards to maintain the proper environment for conservation of the historic painting after the initial restoration. The History Center intends to restore the painting to its full size and overall height, and to re-create the 128-year-old painting’s original visual perspective – both of which have been lost for nearly 100 years. In total, the History Center will restore 3,268 square feet of the painting. Construction on the annex is expected to begin summer 2015.
Current financial commitments – which are contingent upon a long-term license agreement with the City of Atlanta – total over $32.2 million. This includes a $10 million charitable remainder trust that creates the endowment to ensure that the Cyclorama is properly maintained as long as the History Center is its custodian, at no cost to taxpayers.
The Atlanta History Center’s existing infrastructure will ensure that the Cyclorama is properly restored, maintained and preserved for generations to come. The new display method will return the painting to its original presentation as a 3-D experience. When complete, Atlanta residents, tourists, and other visitors will be able to see the Cyclorama – The Battle of Atlanta – as it was originally intended to be viewed in the 19th century.
“We are honored for this opportunity, and believe the Atlanta History Center is the best long-term solution for the Cyclorama. Sharing history is our passion, and we are excited about incorporating these artifacts into our comprehensive Civil War collection,” said Sheffield Hale, President and CEO of the Atlanta History Center. “We will preserve the Cyclorama in a museum-quality environment that will ensure its availability and accessibility for generations to come. Our resources and expertise uniquely position us to interpret the painting and diorama in their historic context.”
After the relocation is complete, the Cyclorama building will be transferred to Zoo Atlanta. The building will be developed into a unique event and community space that will include an overlook of the Zoo’s African savanna exhibit. Renovations to the building will preserve the historic character and aesthetic appeal of the original facility. Once the renovation is complete, the Zoo will feature a new entryway plaza, an enhanced African elephant exhibit and renovated workspace for administrative staff. The Zoo’s redevelopment plan also calls for an environmentally sound underground parking solution to alleviate parking in the neighborhoods and accommodate attendance growth at the Zoo.
“The building is a treasure we look forward to preserving and enhancing,” said Zoo Atlanta President and CEO Raymond King. “We’re thrilled about being entrusted with such a beautiful space, and we’re excited about seeing this historic building get a new life as a unique and world-class event space overlooking our magnificent elephants on an expanded African savanna. We thank Mayor Reed for his leadership in making sure that these assets will be here for future generations to enjoy.”
Mayor Reed praised Zoo Atlanta’s commitment by adding, “The expansion of event and program space at the Zoo not only provides visitors and residents with an improved customer experience, it also enhances the cultural significance and amenities available to the Grant Park neighborhood.”
The renovation of the Cyclorama building will be paid for by private and philanthropic dollars.
Since 2007, the City of Atlanta has partnered with the History Center to obtain professional conservation assessments of The Battle of Atlanta painting, the locomotive “Texas”, and other artifacts, as well as architectural assessments of the Cyclorama building. The relocation of the Cyclorama will save the city approximately $1 million a year in operating costs.