The Eisenhower Memorial Commission issued a letter today in strong support of its chosen architect, Frank Gehry.
“The members of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission are unanimous in their total and unqualified support for Frank Gehry and his vision for the memorial that will commemorate Dwight David Eisenhower in his roles as both a Supreme Allied Commander during World War II and 34th President of the United States of America,” the letter said. The 12-member commission, chaired by Rocco C. Siciliano, includes eight members of Congress. The panel now has one vacancy, after the December 2011 resignation of David Eisenhower, grandson of the former president.
Gehry’s design for the memorial, which includes large metal tapestries hung from ten 80-foot-tall columns, has been the subject of controversy the past few months. Eisenhower grandchildren Susan and Anne Eisenhower have been vocal in their dislike of Gehry’s design, and a campaign organized by the small, non-profit National Civic Art Society has led to considerable negative attention to the design among conservative commentators.
At a March 20 hearing of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, opponents of Gehry’s vision squared off with officials from the Memorial Commission, the National Park Service and the General Services Administration. Under questioning, commission executive director Carl Reddel suggested the controversy was generating dissension inside the commission.
“Clearly we do not have consensus today,” Reddel said in response to questions from subcommittee chairman Rob Bishop.
Today’s letter suggests the congressional hearing, at which Susan Eisenhower compared Gehry’s designs to the aesthetics of “Marx, Engels and Lenin,” Ho Chi Minh, and the death camps of Adolf Hitler, may have clarified the commission’s thinking about Gehry’s contribution. Without citing names, the letter made explicit reference to the hostility of the tone of the debate.
“Frank Gehry has been a loyal soldier in our effort,” the commissioners wrote. “We confirm our selection of him, confirm our enthusiastic endorsement of his design concept, and express our regret and sadness at the tone and nature of the selected comments that have been made on Mr. Gehry’s design for the memorial.”