Tweaks to the design for a memorial in honor of President Dwight Eisenhower were well-received Tuesday by the 11-member commission overseeing the project.
But lingering concerns from the Eisenhower family, outside groups and Members of Congress about the design and its selection process could derail progress.
The window for reaching consensus continues to narrow in advance of a July 12 meeting between the Eisenhower Memorial Commission members and the National Capital Planning Commission, the agency that must approve the design for groundbreaking to take place.
“Time is of the essence,” Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), a World War II veteran, said of building the four-acre memorial dedicated to his one-time supreme commander. “There is a national interest in making sure this monument is completed to remind the next generation of Americans what America has gone through and the great leaders we’ve had.”
The Eisenhower Memorial Commission doesn’t need outside endorsement to proceed with the design by renowned architect Frank Gehry. If Tuesday’s meeting in the Dirksen Senate Office Building is any indication, all of its members are on board with the current concept, and they get the final say in whether it moves forward.
But the commission, which includes eight lawmakers, has not been receiving good publicity of late.
It has been accused of using a selection process to pick the designer that excluded less well-known architects, selecting a design that does not adequately honor Eisenhower’s legacy and ignoring his relatives who dislike Gehry’s design.
“One of the main flaws of the current proposal ... is that Eisenhower’s contribution to this nation is not the central theme of the design,” Susan Eisenhower, the president’s granddaughter, has said. At one point, the centerpiece of the memorial was a statue of a young Eisenhower gazing up at bas-relief depictions of what his life would become.
Since a March 20 House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands hearing, Gehry has worked to address concerns.
The statue of Eisenhower that was to depict him as a child will now present him as a young man, and the bas-reliefs are now three-dimensional statues: One depicts Eisenhower speaking with 101st Airborne division soldiers at Normandy; another is of the former president as depicted in the photo “The Elder Statesman,” taken in 1966 by Yousuf Karsh.
“I have refined the design to incorporate … feedback, which I believe helps tell the story of Eisenhower with more dignity and power,” Gehry wrote in a letter read aloud at Tuesday’s hearing. “I hope that you are as energized as I am by the changes.”
The Eisenhower family will review the changes at a later date. But at least one group, the National Civic Art Society, remains opposed.
President and Chairman Justin Shubow said the proposed metal tapestry depicting Eisenhower’s Kansas roots is reminiscent of the Iron Curtain; that when the dozens of trees to be planted at the site lose their leaves in winter, their bare branches could be seen as “an allegory for death”; and that several other elements represent a “maintenance nightmare.”
Shubow said his organization is actively encouraging Congress, which appropriates some of the funding for the monument, to intervene.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the Natural Resources subpanel dealing with national parks, suggested in March that he could recommend withholding further appropriations if stakeholders are unable to reach an agreement.
A spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Committee told Roll Call the panel is continuing to watch the situation closely but no decisions have been made about how to proceed.
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