They gathered in a foundry in a small Missouri town along the Mississippi River 35 miles downstream from St. Louis to watch their dream take physical shape. They stood and watched while workers using a jackhammer attached to a Bobcat loader carefully chipped away at a mold made of 75,000 pounds of sand.
Keith Kaseman and Julie Beckman, two young New York architects who were chosen to design the Pentagon Memorial, were there. Jim Laychak, who lost a brother at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, made the trip, too. So did Rosemary Dillard, whose husband was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 77 and died when it was crashed into the Pentagon by terrorists. Jill Dowling, manager of the design-build team, went along as well.
On hand for the emergence of the bench are, from left, James Laychak, president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, Jill Dowling of Centex Lee, the design-build team; architect Julie Beckman; Rosemary Dillard, vice president of the fund; and architect Keith Kaseman.
(Mary Butkus For The Washington Post)
After more than two hours of pecking at the mold, the moment arrived to lift the finished product with a crane. All work at the foundry stopped, according to many of those who gathered there. Everyone wanted to see. As the stainless-steel prototype of the benches that will be used at the Pentagon Memorial was lifted out of the mold, everyone applauded, except for the guys on the forklifts. They honked their horns like crazy.
Dillard fought to hold back tears. So did James Upchurch, who helped build the mold. It was Thursday morning, and Beckman remembered that it was exactly two years ago to the day that she and Kaseman were introduced at a news conference as the winners of a worldwide design competition -- their design chosen from more than 1,000 entries.
"I don't think we anticipated the amount of emotion we would feel as we were pouring this mold and shaking it out," said E.J. Kubick, president of Carondelet Corp., a division of MetalTek International, which was awarded the contract to build the benches. "I think everybody was very moved by this event. We are very proud to be part of this."
The Pentagon Memorial, which is to be built entirely with private funds, will have 184 cantilevered benches, one in memory of each of the victims of the terrorist attack. It will occupy 1.93 acres of the Pentagon's west lawn and will be 165 feet from where the jetliner hit the building.
Although there has been no groundbreaking ceremony for the memorial and there are no backhoes, bulldozers or dump trucks on site, much work has been going on -- research and development and fundraising -- that is not visible to the thousands of commuters who pass the site on area highways.
The process of getting the memorial designed and built has been very personal for many family members. Each month, they meet to go over the progress. Not quite $6 million has been raised for the memorial. Laychak, who is president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, said about $30 million is needed to build and maintain it. Construction is expected to cost about $20 million, and family members want to establish a $10 million maintenance fund.
"We have enough money to pay for the next year and about half of 2006," Laychak said. The money has come from corporate donations, an internal Pentagon fundraiser and other contributions. Last summer, the children of Elaine Donovan, whose husband, Bill, a Navy commander, was killed in the attack, set up a Gatorade stand on the Mount Vernon bike path to raise money for the memorial. Laychak said the memorial fund is considering a plan to sell sponsorships of individual benches for $150,000 each.
Laychak said he hopes that construction can begin by fall 2006 and be completed by spring 2008. Many components of the memorial will be constructed off-site, such as the benches and the individual reflecting pools and lighting systems that will be under the benches.
The construction schedule is fluid because it depends on the pace of fundraising. It is a pay-as-you-go project. In the near future, testing will continue on the bench prototype, a second prototype will be made, and if everyone is satisfied, the production of the 184 benches will proceed. A West Coast company is continuing research and testing of the underground system of pipes and pumps that will service the reflecting pools.
The prototype was the first piece of the memorial that people could touch -- once it cooled from 2,980 degrees. During the next couple of months, it will be trimmed, polished and tested for flaws. By June, the testing may be finished and a second prototype made, incorporating changes that result from the testing.
"I am just so thankful that I was able to come out and see this," Laychak said. "Now we can come back and tell all the family members that this is going to happen. I knew we were going to get it built, but this makes it tangible and real. Now you can see it and touch it and you can imagine what 184 of them together is going to look like."
Kaseman and Beckman have spent more than two years working on the project. Until last week, the only vision they had of their design was through the window of a computer screen or on paper.