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Eisenhower family on memorial: Go back to the drawing board

By Greg Seaby, CNN
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Tue March 20, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • House panel hears testimony on planned Dwight D. Eisenhower memorial
  • Susan Eisenhower: The design doesn't emphasize his achievements
  • Nation wants to celebrate "not a dreamy boy, but a real man"
  • Designer says in a statement he is open to talking with the family

Washington (CNN) -- The controversy over the design of a planned memorial honoring President Dwight D. Eisenhower made its way to Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

The House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands held a congressional oversight hearing this morning on the design and development of the proposed memorial.

Speaking on behalf of the Eisenhower family, the late president's granddaughter, Susan Eisenhower, told the committee, "Public debate has demonstrated the American people overwhelmingly endorse the memorial, but they are saying its time to go back to the drawing board and we agree."

The Eisenhower family has publicly voiced opposition to the narrative design created by architect Frank Gehry. The work's central statue depicts Eisenhower as a child gazing at images of himself as the supreme commander of the Allies in Europe and as president from 1953 to 1961. "Dreams of a Barefoot Boy" is a reference drawn from Eisenhower's homecoming speech from World War II.

The memorial's setting "is elegantly created by an 80-foot-tall, limestone-clad columns supporting woven, stainless steel tapestries," said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Carl W. Reddell, executive director of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission.

The memorial will be part of a new 4-acre Eisenhower Square located across from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

"One of the main flaws of the current proposal is that Eisenhower's contribution to the nation is not the central theme of the design," Susan Eisenhower told the committee. "The Eisenhower our nation wants to celebrate is not a dreamy boy, but a real man who faced unthinkable choices, took personal responsibility and did his duty with modesty and humility."

She also said the design process should be more open. "Going forward it will be critical that the Eisenhower Memorial Commission staff do a much better job of engaging its stakeholders and the American people."

"We have one chance to make this correct and do it right," said Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the House Natural Resources, National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee.

Ghery did not attend the hearing, but the artist offered a written rebuttal:

"I would like to correct the mis-impression that some may have that the young boy is the only representation of Eisenhower in the memorial. I would like you to look at images of the bas relief sculptures that have been a part of the memorial since the competition winning entry."

In the letter, Gehry said he is open to talking with the family about the design.

Ghery's firm, Ghery Partners LLP, was selected from among 44 qualifying designers through the General Service Administration's Design Excellence Program in 2010, said William Guerin, assistant commissioner for the Office of Construction Programs.

The groundbreaking is currently scheduled for late this year. The memorial commission estimates the construction cost will be $110 million.

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