Tower scrap becomes souvenirs

Ironic, says builder of disdained facility at Gettysburg park

July 20, 2000|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

While workers shear and torch the heaping metal remains of the imploded National Tower at Gettysburg, preservationists who once fought for its dismantling are selling bolts, light bulbs and signs - souvenirs from the tower - as a fund-raiser.

This is the last piece of an aggressive, quarter-century-long campaign by preservationists to acquire and destroy the tower they said desecrated the site of the Battle of Gettysburg, regarded by many historians as the pivotal contest of the Civil War.

"Our members felt this was a significant piece of the victory, " said Vickey Monrean, surveying a shelf in her office storage room lined with random pieces of the 393-foot tower, which was destroyed July 3 before thousands of spectators. Monrean is executive director of the Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg, a national nonprofit group with 21,000 members.

The irony of their fund-raiser is not lost on tower designer Joel H. Rosenblatt. The Baltimore engineer considered the $2.5 million structure "a monument to structural engineering."

"It's a hell of a way to go about collecting money," Rosenblatt said. "It seems like the preservation groups are the last ones who should benefit from the destruction. They're the ones that caused the destruction."

The tower, which once dominated the landscape, consisted of a four-level viewing area in the shape of an octagon, supported by steel lattices. It measured 94 feet in diameter at its base and 70 feet at its top and was visible from almost every part of the 6,000-acre battlefield.

In 1990, boundary change legislation placed the tower inside the park. In 1999, after years of complaints by preservationists, Congress allocated $3 million for the tower's purchase. A federal court has yet to determine how much the government must pay former owner Overview Limited Partnership of Baltimore for the tower.

Now, chunks of sodden fiberglass insulation, shards of glass and stray bolts litter the grass near the 15-foot-high pile of metal, wood and wires where the tower had stood since its opening July 27, 1974.

The loudspeakers that once blared "Dixie" to beckon some of the park's 1.7 million annual visitors are silent.

On a recent day, the only noise, aside from lawn mowers at Evergreen Cemetery, was from the tread and engine of the 50-ton shear used to separate some of the 1,000 tons of galvanized steel from wood, glass and other scrap.

Two men working over a six-week period have been sorting through the wreckage using the shear and a Bobcat. They are cutting salvaged steel into 5-foot segments with torches and loading it into 20-ton trailers to be transported to a foundry for recycling.

Mickey Pollock of Mayer Pollock Steel Corp., the company performing the salvage operation, estimates it will require 60 trailer loads to clear the steel from the site. Unwanted materials will be disposed of at a landfill.

The demolition site, which is closed to the public, is shielded from visitors' sight by a ring of trees. Those trees used to be dwarfed by the tower, said park visitor Julia Hynek of Industry, Ill., back for her fourth visit to the park since 1970.

"It was an eyesore," Hynek, 72, said Tuesday morning as she waited for a tour of the battlefield to begin. "I was glad to hear it came down."

The demolition, which required nearly 14 pounds of explosives, occurred 137 years to the day after Union forces turned back an assault by 15,000 Confederate soldiers led by Gen. George Edward Pickett in what is considered by many to be the turning point of the Civil War.

Controlled Demolition Inc. of Phoenix in Baltimore County donated its services and explosives to raze the tower in exchange for the rights to salvage the steel.

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