Eisenhower memorial moves forward despite family opposition

WASHINGTON--The controversial design for a planned memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower is moving ahead, despite continuing opposition from the Eisenhower family and threats from Congress to pull funding.

On Thursday, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, which advises the government on architectural development in the capital, approved key elements of the $142-million project designed by Frank Gehry.

The current plan imagines a four-acre urban park near the National Mall, situated across from the National Air and Space Museum in full view of the Capitol. It would feature bronze statues and commemorative walls depicting key moments from Eisenhower’s career, such as the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, framed by several large “tapestries” representing his upbringing in Kansas.

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The art commission approved the concept for the walls and statues, but “strongly suggested some reconsideration of the role and placement” of the tapestries, according to the commission’s secretary, Thomas Luebke.

The Commission of Fine Arts is one of two agencies that needs to approve the memorial before construction can begin. Gehry’s design will be taken up by the National Capital Planning Commission, which deals with federal land in the district, for technical review in September.

The Eisenhower Memorial has been in development for 14 years. Since a commission selected Gehry’s design in 2009, it has been heavily criticized and revised.

The Eisenhower family has openly expressed its disapproval of the concept. Speaking before a House committee earlier this year, granddaughter Susan Eisenhower called it “grandiose” and said it did not reflect the former president’s values.

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Members of Congress have also criticized Gehry for eschewing the traditional style of iconic presidential memorials to Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. 

Last month, the House Natural Resources Committee approved a bill that would pause federal funding for the Eisenhower Memorial and call for a new design competition. It is not currently scheduled for a vote in the full House.

The memorial commission also needs reauthorization from Congress, which has already poured $62 million into the project, in order to stay on track. (The memorial has also drawn private support.) Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who is sponsoring the legislation for an alternative design, has said that he does not believe support for the Eisenhower Memorial would be renewed with its current plan.

His office said Bishop is “optimistic that there’s enough support out there for a new design,” and will continue to push for a public competition or “substantial alterations” to Gehry’s plan.

In June, an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office estimated that it would cost an additional $17 million to redesign the memorial.


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