ATLANTA, GA – In July 2014, Mayor Kasim Reed joined 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 to the Atlanta History Center. The existing 1921 Cyclorama building in Grant Park will be developed into a premier community event space and become a featured part of Zoo Atlanta’s African Savanna exhibit as part of upgrades developed by Zoo Atlanta.
On Tuesday, June 30, 2015, the Cyclorama will close the doors at its current Grant Park location to begin preparations for the relocation of The Battle of Atlanta painting, the Western & Atlantic Railroad Texas locomotive, and other Civil War artifacts, including four historic cannons, to the Atlanta History Center where they will be restored and housed in a new state-of-the-art facility, as part of a 75 year license agreement with the City of Atlanta. Construction on the Lloyd and Mary Ann Whitaker Cyclorama Building is set to begin fall 2015, and open in 2017.
“The Atlanta History Center has the most comprehensive collection of Civil War artifacts at one location in the nation,” said Mayor Kasim Reed. “The relocation of the Atlanta Cyclorama to the History Center provides the opportunity to make new connections between the Cyclorama and other artifacts, archival records, photographs, rare books, and contemporary research, providing a unique opportunity to renew our Cyclorama - one of the city’s most important cultural and historic landmarks.”
The Battle of Atlanta painting, the Texas locomotive, and other artifacts will relocate to a new custom-built annex on the History Center’s 33 acre campus. The 23,000-square-foot addition will be placed on the northeast corner of the campus, connect to the current Atlanta History Museum, and meet appropriate museum quality standards to maintain a proper environment for the long term conservation of the painting, and artifacts. A custom built enclosed glass breezeway connecting the Atlanta History Museum and the new Whitaker Cyclorama building has been specifically designed to prominently showcase the Texas locomotive from the West Paces Ferry street view.
Over the past seven years, the Atlanta History Center, a private non-profit educational institution accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, has funded professional conservation assessments of The Battle of Atlanta painting, the Texas locomotive, and other artifacts-- as well as architectural assessments of the Cyclorama building-- at the request of the City of Atlanta. The History Center has also expended thousands of staff hours conducting extensive historical research on these artifacts, and has actively collected documents relating to the history and restoration of cycloramas worldwide. These efforts have made the Atlanta History Center best suited to conserve and restore these historic treasures.
Current financial commitments total over $32.2 million. This includes a $10 million charitable remainder trust that establishes an endowment to ensure that the Cyclorama painting and Texas locomotive are properly maintained as long as the History Center is their custodian, at no cost to taxpayers.
Based on extensive studies, the estimates for relocating and conserving the painting and restoring it to its original size, relocating and restoring the locomotive Texas and other artifacts, and constructing the new building specifically designed to exhibit these artifacts, are estimated to be a minimum of $22 million. The Atlanta History Center is committed to seeking funding from the private sector should any additional funding necessary to complete this project.
Restoration, Conservation, Preservation, and Interpretation
The History Center intends to restore The Battle of Atlanta painting to its full hyperbolic or hourglass shape, size and overall height, and to recreate the 128-year-old painting’s original visual perspective, both of which have been lost for nearly 100 years.
Overall, the Atlanta History Center will reincorporate 3,268 square feet of the painting that has been missing for generations. To restore the work to its original overall height, a significant portion of the painting’s sky must be reintroduced to the canvas. This will require returning 8 feet to the top of the painting - across its entire 371 foot circumference– which will bring back a total of 2,968 square horizontal feet to The Battle of Atlanta. A vertical strip of missing canvas, measuring 6 feet wide by 50 feet high will also be recreated, returning 300 square feet to the painting.
Once the painting has been restored to its original size and shape, Atlanta residents, tourists, and other visitors can see the Cyclorama – The Battle of Atlanta – as it was originally intended to be viewed when it was painted in 1886.
“There are only seventeen surviving cyclorama paintings from the 1880-1920 periods and only four of these are in North America. Many cycloramas were cut apart or left outside to rot when they could no longer draw a paying audience, but because The Battle of Atlanta was saved by the City of Atlanta in the 1890s, it is one of the most intact examples in the world today,” said Gordon Jones, Ph.D., Atlanta History Center senior military historian “Over the years The Battle of Atlanta has suffered from a cycle of deterioration and crisis followed by emergency restoration. Now, we can end that cycle once and for all with the History Center’s ability to fund the maintenance and preservation of this national treasure indefinitely.”
Once the Atlanta Cyclorama closes June 30, 2015, the History Center’s Cyclorama team including Jones and Jackson McQuigg, Atlanta History Center vice president of properties, will continue working with an international team of painting conservators, rigging experts, and structural engineers to begin a series of steps which will lead to the transfer of the painting, the Texas, and the Cyclorama’s other artifacts to the Atlanta History Center.
“Our staff has pursued opinions from some of the best minds in the highly-specialized field of cyclorama conservation regarding structural and conservation requirements for the painting,” said Jackson McQuigg. “Our consultants have confirmed that the cost to relocate and thoroughly restore the painting will require a minimum of $11 million, even if we are able to scroll the painting in a single piece - the most cost-effective scenario - without separating it into sections. Furthermore, under any scenario, funds will be needed for the stabilization of the Cyclorama’s multiple paint layers, the restoration of the diorama, the move and restoration of the Texas locomotive, and lighting and audiovisual interpretive elements.”
The team’s processes will include strength-testing the canvas, documenting the current condition of the paint layers and fiber glass backing, and determining any necessary stabilization conservation efforts needed prior to moving the painting. This team will have the opportunity to closely analyze the painting, allowing them to photograph with such precision that the original scale gridlines of the painting should be discernable.
The History Center’s goal is to engage the public in this once-in-a-lifetime experience through photography, videos, and updates provided through the History Center’s online platforms. Following the delicate removal of the painting, the Texas locomotive, and other artifacts, the History Center hopes to provide opportunities for the public to see, in person, portions of the remaining conservation process once the painting is moved, stabilized, and properly mounted in the new Lloyd and Mary Ann Whitaker Cyclorama building.
Another part of the collection to move to the History Center’s new Cyclorama annex is the Western & Atlantic Texas locomotive. Atlanta was founded as the terminus of the Western & Atlantic Railroad, and only two engines are left in existence from that line. The locomotive Texas is one of them, and remains the best historical example of a Western & Atlantic locomotive of the era, prompting the History Center to dedicate $500,000 to the conservation efforts for the Texas locomotive, which was donated to the City of Atlanta in 1908 and has been exhibited with The Battle of Atlanta painting since 1927.
“As railroads are Atlanta’s reason for being, this steam engine is an icon of Atlanta’s founding and growth as the Gate City of the South – the commercial center of the Southeast,” said Sheffield Hale. “The Texas locomotive symbolizes Atlanta’s longtime relationship with railroads and the city’s importance as a hub for people, commerce, and ideas. No artifact can be more important for telling the story of Atlanta’s beginnings than this Western & Atlantic locomotive.”
Following the relocation of The Battle of Atlanta painting, the Texas locomotive, and other artifacts, Zoo Atlanta will repurpose the Cyclorama building. The 1921 building will be restored and developed into a unique event and community space that will include a new 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 renovation of the 1921 Cyclorama building in Grant Park will be funded through private philanthropic support secured by Zoo Atlanta.
Founded in 1926, the Atlanta History Center is an all-inclusive, 33-acre destination featuring the Atlanta History Museum, one of the nation’s largest history museums; historic houses including the 1928 Swan House and the 1860 Smith Family Farm; the Centennial Olympic Games Museum; the Kenan Research Center; the Grand Overlook event space; Goizuetta Gardens, featuring 22 acres of gardens, walkways, paths and trails; and the newly opened museum, bookstore and Souper Jenny café. In addition, the History Center operates the Margaret Mitchell House located in Midtown Atlanta. For information on Atlanta History Center offerings, hours of operation and admission call 404.814.4000 or visit AtlantaHistoryCenter.com.