Cyclorama closing soon to prepare for move

If you’ve been planning to visit the Cyclorama, act fast: The Grant Park building housing the massive painting is closing June 30. If you don’t see it before then, you’ll have to wait two years.

The attraction is open now through Saturday, is closed Sunday and Monday, and will open a final day on Tuesday, June 30, the end of Atlanta’s fiscal year.

After the doors close at 4:30 p.m. that day, specialists with the Atlanta History Center will begin preparing the painting for a 9-mile move to the center’s complex on West Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead. The center is building a structure for the painting, which it hopes to have complete by early 2017.

The painting’s former home won’t be empty long. The building that has housed the painting since 1921 will be given new life as a special-events center for Zoo Atlanta. It will be part of what’s been called a “grand new view,” effectively reshaping the zoo’s entrance and creating more room for some of the zoo’s largest residents. The elephants need the space.

It is, said Jenna Garland, a spokeswoman for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a good move for all parties.

“This is an exciting opportunity,” Garland said. “We’re giving it (the painting) the space it deserves, the attention it deserves and the audience it deserves.”

The painting is not the only item making the trip. The Texas, a steam locomotive made famous in a Civil War railroad chase, is heading to Buckhead, along with an array of other artifacts. They’ll be housed in the Lloyd and Mary Ann Whitaker Cyclorama Building.

The 128-year-old painting will undergo an immense restoration. Preservationists will add more than 3,000 square feet of canvas that has been missing for generations. The center also will hire rigging experts and engineers to figure out the best way to move the canvas and other items.

Consultants have estimated that moving and restoring the painting will cost at least $11 million.

“This is absolutely the coolest, greatest and scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Gordon Jones, the history center’s military historian. He served on a task force that recommended the canvas and other artifacts join the center’s extensive collection of Civil War items.

Jones, who wrote a graduate-school paper about the painting, believes the move is timely. “We’re building an exhibit for it,” he said. “We’re also building a hospital room to take care of it.”

The move underscores a sentiment shared by assorted locals and visitors. An old building near the zoo, some said, was hardly the place to showcase a painting 30 feet tall and 358 feet long.

On a recent morning, Key and Eum Lee strolled out of the zoo and ambled toward the Cyclorama. Vacationers from Indianapolis, the Lees stopped to read a Cyclorama marker posted not far from the structure’s double doors.

Key Lee shrugged. “It’s really weird,” he said, “to see the Civil War right beside the zoo.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.