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Congress Looks Likely to Step Into Eisenhower Memorial Saga

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of the former president, attended a House subcommittee hearing on the Eisenhower Memorial Commission on Tuesday.

Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Susan Eisenhower, followed Issa’s testimony on Tuesday to reiterate, on behalf of the rest of the family, the grievances she has aired publicly over the past year and a half over the current design.

“The design is flawed in concept and overreaching in scale,” she said, adding that the Eisenhowers “for more than 10 years ... raised concerns and objections that were ignored, and we believe, never adequately communicated to all the Commission members.”

Susan Eisenhower also submitted into the committee record an October 2012 letter her father, the president’s only surviving son and a former commission member, John S. D. Eisenhower sent to the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, who as a World War II veteran also served on the Eisenhower Memorial Commission before his death in December.

In the letter, John S.D. Eisenhower conceded that “this memorial should be designed for the benefit of the people, not our family.”

He went on, however, to emphasize that the family’s disapproval should be taken to heart alongside concerns everybody should have about the design’s inaccessibility, questionable sustainability, exorbitant price tag and overall aesthetic value.

“No memorial has ever been built over the objections of the family,” Susan Eisenhower said.

Following the hearing Tuesday, Bishop acknowledged that “it’s easy to hide behind the family,” but that many people are troubled by Gehry’s design.

Bishop said he appreciates that art is largely subjective, and said that if it were only the memorial’s design in question he would be less inclined to get involved in the issue at all.

“It would be hard for me to argue with a bad design if the process had been followed appropriately and the money had been spent wisely,” Bishop said.

Comments made during the course of the hearing suggested just how difficult it might be for Congress to reconcile a variety of artistic perspectives to honor a man about whom many people feel very passionate.

Architect Arthur Cotton Moore, a sixth-generation Washingtonian, on Tuesday proposed a new monument that he said would be more harmonious with the District’s topography: two statues could “serve as a gateway to Maryland Avenue,” with one depicting Eisenhower as “Supreme Allied Commander for the European theater in World War II, and the other as a two-term president of the United States.”

Justin Shubow, president of the National Civic Art Society, said that the monument should be “legible without a guide or key,” a “statement” rather than a “question mark,” and “made of noble materials ... such as marble and bronze.”

Subcommittee member Cynthia M. Lummis, R-Wyo., said she didn’t care for the Gehry design but didn’t offer a suggestion for what would make it better. Fellow panel Republican Tom McClintock of California called the current concept “outlandish,” “appalling,” and a “monstrous perversion of a great man.”

And then there was subcommittee Democrat Rush D. Holt of New Jersey.

“I’m sure there will be some dissatisfaction about any memorial,” he said, but added, “I sort of like the design we have now.”

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