Posted: 10:59 am Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014
By Howard Pousner
In a move of literal and figurative historic proportions, plans call for the Cyclorama, one of the city’s most valuable cultural artifacts, to leave its Grant Park home of nearly a century and relocate to a new building at the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead.
The announcement about the move of the painting was made by Mayor Kasim Reed at a City Hall press conference Wednesday morning.
A surprise part of the news is that the history center, having recently completed an unrelated $21.1 million capital improvement campaign, already has raised $32.2 million. That amount is sufficient to move the painting, construct a 23,000-square-foot building that will be accessible to visitors from its main entrance, conduct an extensive restoration and create an endowment to maintain it.
The Cyclorama painting would remain the property of the city. The history center and city still have to reach a long-term license agreement, and the deal will be contingent upon City Council approval. Zoo Atlanta would receive the existing Cyclorama building, adapting it for new uses.
A building in Grant Park has housed the massive, panoramic, city-owned painting, which depicts the Battle of Atlanta, since 1921. With the painting in need of a restoration estimated at more than $8 million, the city appointed an advisory group in 2012 to explore options.
Its members including downtown business leaders, historians, city officials and foundation leaders, the advisers recommended three options last year. The panel’s top suggestions, all including restoration, were to a move to either Centennial Park, where the College Hall of Fame will soon join a tourism-friendly lineup of attractions, or the History Center, located less than a mile from the heart of the Buckhead business/entertainment district. The third option was for it to remain in Grant Park, where attendance has been on a recent uptick but is still considered low for such a rare historic asset and not near enough for it to sustain long-term.
Though Reed and other city leaders had strong interest in the Centennial Park location, the History Center moved to the front when an Atlanta couple, Lloyd and Mary Ann Whitaker, stepped forward offering it a gift of $10 million in support of a relocation to Buckhead. That gift, which became the lead one in a rapidly executed fund-raising campaign, will be designated as the painting’s endowment fund.
The Whitakers, who had not previously been history center supporters, made the offer after reading a January 2013 story in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that detailed the various future options for the painting.
Weighing nine tons and measuring 42 feet tall and 365 feet in circumference, the Cyclorama, officially titled “The Battle of Atlanta,” is among the world’s largest paintings and is one of only two of comparable size in the United States. The other American cyclorama, depicting the Battle of Gettysburg, is in the Gettysburg National Military Park.
As big as the Cyclorama is, it will get bigger, returning to its original dimensions as sections that were removed when it took up residence in Grant Park will be re-created as part of the restoration. That includes one panel, 6 feet wide by 50 feet high, depicting part of the battle. Also, 8 feet of sky will be re-created from photographs and added back to the top of the painting, running all the way around its 371-foot circumference. ( See more AJC images of the Cyclorama.)
In total, the history center will restore 3,268 square feet of the painting removed in 1921.
Pending approval, plans call for the history center to begin the detailed restoration, panel by panel, at Grant Park while the custom-build facility on its leafy, 33-acre campus is under construction.
Construction would begin in summer 2015 and is expected to take a year. Once the building is complete, the restoration would continue in Buckhead, with the facility open during the process for the public to view. A completion date has not been projected.
Once the painstaking process is complete, the painting will be mounted in its originally designed hyperbolic, or hourglass shape, restoring the illusion for visitors that they are viewing it in 3-D.
The Cyclorama will be part of the history center’s regular admission — currently $11 to $16.50.
Another massive artifact, the Civil War locomotive the Texas, which has been displayed with the painting in Grant Park since 1927, will move to the history center, as well. Though other entities, including the city of Marietta, have expressed interest in the Texas, a principal in the Great Locomotive Chase, Atlanta leaders felt that it and the painting should remain together.
The painting and locomotive should complement what is regarded as one of the country’s pre-eminent repositories of the Civil War’s artifacts, built around the DuBose Civil War Collection of 7,500 Union and Confederate objects. The history center’s detailed exhibit, “Turning Point: The American Civil War,” remains on permanent view.
Meanwhile, Zoo Atlanta is expected adapt the Grant Park building, renovating space for administrative offices as well as a new events space that will overlook a habitat area for African elephants. The painting has had a variety of Grant Park homes since 1892.