The grandchildren of Dwight David Eisenhower have given their official response to the latest iteration of a proposed memorial to the nation’s 34th president. Although the family welcomed substantial changes unveiled by architect Frank Gehry this month, including the addition of heroic-scaled statuary to the memorial’s core, it remains adamantly opposed to the fundamental architectural idea: large metal tapestries depicting scenes of the nation’s heartland.
“From our perspective, many of the changes that Gehry Partners made to the design concept are positive and welcomed,” said a letter posted Wednesday on Susan Eisenhower’s blog. “The scope and scale of the metal scrims, however, remain controversial and divisive. 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.”
Explore the proposed Eisenhower memorial
Frank Gehry talks about designing the Dwight D. Eisenhower memorial. “I fell in love with the idea of trying to represent him in this unlikely site,” Gehry said about the planned memorial.
The family’s statement narrows the focus of its opposition to the memorial, planned for a four-acre site south of the Mall at Maryland and Independence avenues SW. In previous statements, and in a public hearing in March, the family not only opposed the metal scrims, but also blasted Gehry’s interpretation of Eisenhower’s legacy and criticized the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, which selected Gehry and unanimously supported his design, calling for “a top down review of its staff management practices.”
Despite the family’s continued opposition to what is the most distinctive and essential element of Gehry’s design, a spokeswoman for the commission welcomed the statement as progress toward resolving the family’s concerns. By narrowing the range of its criticism, which in the past has included references to Mao, Stalin and Hitler’s death camps, the family has made it easier for the commission to respond directly to specific concerns.
“We are absolutely delighted that they are happy with the changes,” Chris Kelley Cimko said. As for the tapestries — innovative metal scrims that would probably display scenes of the landscape near Abilene, Kan., where Eisenhower grew up — Cimko said they are undergoing rigorous testing.
But a statement released by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar suggested that the family is gaining ground in persuading political leaders to delaydelaying the memorial’s approval.
“To honor the legacy of President Eisenhower, it’s important that we build a national memorial that reflects the vision of the Commission, his family, and the American people,” wrote Salazar, who as head of the department that oversees the National Park Service has considerable sway over the outcome. “Though it is important to move forward as swiftly as possible, our priority must be in getting it right. If more time is required to get it right, so be it.”
Cimko said the commission doesn’t believe the tapestries will be overwhelmingly expensive, but it will know more as the procurement process continues. It is also waiting for results from independent testing agencies that are exploring how the tapestries will behave and whether they will meet longevity standards.