Proposed Eisenhower memorial hits snag

AP/AP - This image courtesy of Gehry Partners, LLP, 2013 shows the planned Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington.

The Eisenhower Memorial Commission has canceled its Thursday appearance before the National Capital Planning Commission to seek preliminary approval for the memorial honoring Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In a statement Tuesday, the memorial commission cited the need to address requests for additional information contained in an NCPC staff report, announced late last week, as the reason for the delay.

(Matt McClain/For The Washington Post) - Architect Frank Gehry.

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“We have decided to forego appearing before NCPC on Sept. 12 in the belief that the next few months would be better spent satisfying the concerns addressed in the EDR [executive director’s recommendation]. We look forward to holding substantive and constructive meetings with appropriate NCPC officials, and to continue to work in collaboration with them to agree upon a specific measurable action plan to resolve their concerns,” the statement read.

The report calls the testing of the memorial materials insufficient, takes issue with the scale and placement of the columns and tapestries, and raises questions about whether the design fulfills its aim to be an “urban park.”

Tuesday’s surprise announcement is the first formal delay, but the approval process for the memorial to honor the 34th president has been marked by criticism from the Eisenhower family and architectural traditionalists who are unhappy with both the focus and materials in the $110-million Frank Gehry-designed memorial.

In response to the criticisms, Gehry made a series of revisions to the project, which would bisect Maryland Avenue SW across from the National Air and Space Museum. They include restoration of bas-relief sculptures, alterations in statues of young Eisenhower and Eisenhower as president, and the selection of excerpts from Eisenhower’s Guildhall Address, given after the Allies’ European victory and considered Eisenhower’s most important speech. The memorial commission approved the design in June and received revised concept approval at a Commission of Fine Arts meeting in July.

But Bruce Cole, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and a critic of the Gehry design, joined the memorial commission this month. Cole also is a member of the board of advisers of the National Civic Art Society, which has been vocal in its criticism of the design.

Justin Shubow, president of the National Civic Art Society, which stresses traditionalism in monument design, calls the latest delay another “embarrassing setback” for the commission. Shubow sees what he calls the widespread criticism of the project gaining momentum. “If you read between the lines, the recommendation is saying the design can never be approved. The Eisenhower commission is in retreat,” he said.

Chris Cimko, spokeswoman for the commission, says the postponement is an opportunity to precisely address the concerns of the National Capital Planning Commission. “Despite this delay, we are absolutely moving forward,” she said.

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