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Not Set in Stone: Congress Weighs In on Planned Eisenhower Memorial

Courtesy Gehry Partners LLP, 2012
The proposal for the memorial celebrating President Dwight Eisenhower includes a bas relief image of the general with 101st Airborne troops (above) and a depiction of the president as a child, but some aren’t happy with that design.

A few months ago, a national memorial for President Dwight Eisenhower appeared on track for groundbreaking this year. But new concerns about the substance and structure of the proposed design are threatening to derail that momentum.

On Tuesday, Congress is stepping in.

The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands will hold a hearing Tuesday morning to examine how the process of choosing a concept for the memorial has begun, in the words of one Congressman, to “unravel.”

It comes after a flurry of media reports on the public airing of grievances by members of the Eisenhower family: They argue that the design unanimously approved last year by the Congressionally appointed Eisenhower Memorial Commission and envisioned by renowned architect Frank Gehry does not appropriately reflect the legacy of the president and war hero.

“Gehry’s memorial design proposes to highlight a ‘barefoot boy from Abilene,’ who sits in the shadow of 80-foot woven metal ‘tapestries’ that depict the Kansas landscape,” wrote Susan Eisenhower, the president’s granddaughter, earlier this year. “Yet little has been said about the best way to capture Dwight Eisenhower’s contribution to his nation — the very reason he is being memorialized in the first place.”

At this point, only a handful of lawmakers are intimately involved in the Eisenhower memorial’s development — the eight who sit on the Eisenhower Memorial Commission: Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Reps. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) and Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.).

This hearing will mark the first time in recent memory that input on the project has been opened up outside this small circle to the broader Congressional community, a move that could pave the way for greater involvement by Members of Congress going forward. 

Lawmakers have mixed perspectives, though, on what their involvement should be.

Advocate or Arbiter?

Some lawmakers are advocating a halt in the project. 

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) wants the National Capital Planning Commission, which has the authority to green-light the next phase of the memorial’s development, to reject the current design and allow other architects to submit proposals.

“I agree with Susan Eisenhower that depicting her grandfather as a barefoot adolescent is inappropriate for a memorial on the National Mall and would not convey the importance of his achievements,” Wolf wrote in a February letter to the NCPC. 

The memorial is planned for a four-acre parcel on Independence Avenue between Fourth and Sixth streets Southwest, across the street from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

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