Eisenhower family argues for more time to "break the impasse in this process"
Family does not support a design that utilizes eight-story metal tapestries
Eisenhower family would support an open competitive redesign
The family of the late President Dwight Eisenhower continued to express disapproval Wednesday for the design of a memorial commissioned to honor the 34th U.S. president in Washington
In a posted letter, Susan Eisenhower, President Eisenhower’s granddaughter, expressed the family’s gratitude for recent changes by architect Frank Gehry, but opposed the memorial’s expansive modern construction and asked that more time be given to the process.
“We are thankful to all the individuals who have contacted us with their views and suggestions. This will be their memorial – America’s gift to future generations. That’s why it must be built as part of a transparent public effort that enjoys widespread consensual approval. Until that is accomplished we will argue for more time to break the impasse in this process,” the Eisenhower family statement said.
The family of the president known simply as Ike has been specifically concerned with the practicality and symbolism of the eight-story metal, mesh woven tapestries that will surround the new Eisenhower Square near the National Mall.
“The scope and scale of the metal scrims, however, remain controversial and divisive,” the family statement continued. “Not only are they the most expensive element of the Gehry design, they are also the most vulnerable to urban conditions, as well as wildlife incursions and ongoing, yet unpredictable, life-cycle costs. This one-of-a-kind experimental technology, which serves as the memorial’s ‘backdrop,’ is impractical and unnecessary for the conceptual narrative. For those reasons, we do not support a design that utilizes them.”
Public disagreement between the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission and the Eisenhower family over the design grabbed the attention of Congress in March. The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands held an oversight hearing that heard from representatives of the Eisenhower family and the memorial commission, among others.
“We have one chance to make this correct and do it right,” said Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the subcommittee.
Following the hearing, achitect Gehry went back to the drawing board and outlined proposed changes in an open letter to the memorial commission on May 15.
“I have very seriously considered the comments made by my Commissioners, the Eisenhower family, the Department of Education, NCPC (the National Capital Planning Commission), CFA (the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts), and noted historians. I love this type of collaboration. It is a process that I think is vital to the success of any endeavor and one that was necessary to make sense of sometimes contradictory characterizations of President Eisenhower,” wrote Gehry.
Gehry changed the design to add statues of Eisenhower, who served as supreme commander of allied forces in Europe during World War II, as a general and a president, but kept the steel screens.
“The imagery on the tapestry sustaining the unifying theme of Eisenhower’s roots in the heartland – Eisenhower was so proud to grow up in Kansas – leaving out this imagery would mean omitting an important part of his story. I think the imagery has a peacefulness and gravitas to it that creates a suitable environment whether you are inside the park or just passing by,” according to Gehry.
Susan Eisenhower told the House subcommittee in March, “Critics have noted that we will be putting up an ‘Iron Curtain to Ike.’”
The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission is expected to decide on a final design this summer and the groundbreaking is scheduled for late 2012. The Eisenhower family is asking Congress and the commission for more time to reach a consensus.
“Since our nation will have only one chance to erect such a memorial in Washington, D.C., no one should compel the Ccommission or Congress to meet an arbitrary deadline. Like countless others, we believe that those with authority for this memorial should take whatever time is necessary to get it right. There is ample historic precedent that supports this principle,” according to Susan Eisenhower.
“The decision of ‘what’s next’ belongs to the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. They will approve the design ‘as is,’ ask for further modifications or decide on a redesign,” Susan Eisenhower told CNN Wednesday. “If there is a redesign, we would support an open competitive one.”
The memorial commission estimates the construction costs will be $110 million. The project has full federal funding through the design phase and will seek private and public donations through construction.
The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial has a tentative dedication date of Memorial Day 2015.