Atlanta History

Published on September 10th, 2014 |

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Atlanta Cyclorama’s journey to History Center a proper path to preserving historic artifact

The Atlanta Cyclorama is one of about 20 worldwide, but it is one of only two hyperbolic paintings in the United States—along with the cyclorama at Gettysburg, PA—that depicts the story of a battle of the American Civil War, in our case the Battle of Atlanta 150 years ago.

A section of the 3D Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama exhibit presently housed at Grant Park.

A section of the 3D Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama exhibit presently housed at Grant Park.

Both favor telling a story of northern victory and southern defeat in the conflict some prefer calling the War Between the States. The Gettysburg Cyclorama was restored in 2009. The Atlanta Cyclorama is wrinkled, showing its age and missing a six-foot by 50-foot section from the original.

That was a few of the little known facts and messages delivered by Atlanta History Center President and CEO Sheffield Hale during his presentation to the Buckhead Business Association Sept. 4 about the pending move of the Atlanta Cyclorama from Grant Park to the Buckhead center.

Sheffield Hale

Sheffield Hale

For instance, did you know that the famous U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur visited the Atlanta Cyclorama 25 times in 1925, while he was stationed near Atlanta, because his father was a soldier who fought in the Battle of Atlanta depicted in the 360-degree hyperbolic painting.

Most Atlantans, or visitors who have ventured to see the graphic presentation of the Battle of Atlanta—which first opened to the public in Minneapolis in 1886 as a tribute to Northern victory and was moved to Atlanta in 1892—have never realized 300 square feet of the 122-year-old artifact is missing.

“If you find a rolled-up 50-foot long by six-foot wide piece of canvas in your attic, it just might be the piece that was sliced out of the painting,” Hale joked during his presentation to the BBA.

Ths photo shows the 6 by 50-foot section  that was cut out of the painting.

The 6- by 50-foot section that was cut out of the painting.

He explained that when the present facility was built in Grant Park, which was dedicated in October 1921, the building was built too small to house the painting and “it had to lose 10 feet of sky and six feet from the width.”

Also, since 1921, the painting has been hung “like a shower curtain,” which was not the way it was intended to be displayed in order to provide the original 3D effect. The painting, which was created by Germans in 1885-86, was restored again in 1979 to the tune of $11 million, but the painting is now wrinkled.

All of that will be corrected when the Cyclorama is moved to its new custom-built home at the History Center campus on West Paces Ferry Road and is restored to its original size, form and brilliance, Hale told the BBA audience.

This is a rendering of the planned new structure to house the Cyclorama at the Atlanta History Center.

A rendering of the planned new structure to house the Cyclorama at the Atlanta History Center.

“It will be restored to the way it was originally intended to be viewed in the 19th century,” Hale said. “We will restore the experience that no one has seen or felt in nearly 100 years.”

He said a team from the History Center, which has been working on studying this project for years, visited the Gettysburg Cyclorama, but did not like how visitors rode an escalator up to the viewing platform.

The design of the new Atlanta Cyclorama home has visitors walking into a round room the floor of which then lifts up to become the viewing platform—giving the experience of rising into the middle of the battlefield.

Hale showed the BBA audience an impressive video of how the Cyclorama would be displayed at the History Center—in a new building on the northeast corner of the

The present Cyclorama building nest to the Zoo in Grant Park.

The present Cyclorama building in Grant Park.

renovated front of the center and behind the Veterans Memorial Park, with the other displays from Grant Park, including the Texas locomotive from the “Great Locomotive Chase”.

To view the video that Hale showed the BBA, and which is located on the History Center’s website, click here.

This entire development—the move, the new building, the restoration of the painting—all fell into place after years of discussion on the future of the Cyclorama since 2007 because of an invitation to lunch Hale received for an old friend and former law colleague of days past.

In January of 2013, Hale said, he got a call from Lloyd T. Whitaker who asked Hale to join him for lunch. Hale had no idea what Whitaker wanted to discuss but accepted the invitation.

It seems Whitaker had read an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the Cyclorama and told Hale over lunch that he and his wife Mary Ann wanted to contribute $10 million toward moving the Cyclorama to the Atlanta History Center.

“Well, I am definitely going to pay for lunch,” Hale said he told Whitaker.

Sheffield Hale speaking to the Buckhead Business Association with image of the present Cyclorama building on the screen.

Sheffield Hale speaking to the Buckhead Business Association with image of the present Cyclorama building on the screen.

The $10 million became the endowment needed to make it all happened, culminating in the announcement on July 23 (the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Atlanta) that the Cyclorama would move to Buckhead.

Current commitments—which are contingent upon a long-term license agreement with the City of Atlanta—total over $32.2 million, including that $10 million charitable remainder trust that creates the endowment ensuring that the Cyclorama is properly maintained as long as the History Center is its custodian, at no cost to taxpayers.

“The Atlanta History Center is the best long-term solution for the Cyclorama,” Hale told the BBA audience. “This unique, historic artifact must have the expertise and tools – including financing, restoration, preservation, and interpretation – to ensure its ongoing care and conservation for generations to come.”

Hale said the Atlanta History Center is the only institution with an existing infrastructure that can provide the needed level of stewardship and long-term sustainability at no cost to taxpayers.

The cost of the new building and restoration of the artifact is approximately $22 million, Hale said. The Atlanta History Center is committed to raising from the private

Above is the new and expanded Veterans Park which will form a primary entry point to the new Cyclorama building at the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead.

The new and expanded Veterans Park, which will form a primary entry point to the new Cyclorama building at the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead.

sector any additional funding necessary to complete this project.

But it is not all completed yet. Hale pointed out that the lease agreement with the city is yet to be completed and approved by both the mayor’s office and City Council. If all goes well with that, construction will begin within a year on the new Cyclorama home and restoration of the painting.

Oh yes, the foreground figures that are part of the present Cyclorama presentation—which were added during a restoration in 1934-36 by Wilbur Kurtz, head of the WPA and have been added to and changed somewhat over the years—will be moved, restored and used in the new location.

And, what about the building where the Cyclorama presently is located? It will be turned over to Zoo Atlanta, which is adjacent to the building, and will be used by the Zoo for administrative offices and an exhibit area. That provides the Zoo the ability to expand its elephant area, which it badly needed to increase the number of elephants. Without adding elephants, the Zoo would have had to get rid of its present elephants due to new regulations.

One last benefit of the move is that it will save the city of Atlanta $1 million in annual overhead.

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    One Response to Atlanta Cyclorama’s journey to History Center a proper path to preserving historic artifact

    1. Jeff Marvin says:

      This is certainly an exciting project, but as someone who grew up in Atlanta and visited the Cyclorama, I would encourage the designers to keep the rotating seats and “guided” tour of the Cyclorama. That was the best feature and an exciting element of the museum for children.

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