A controversial 10-year campaign by the congressmen of Alaska and Hawaii to have their states' names emblazoned on the Lincoln Memorial won crucial support last week when the Commission of Fine Arts approved a plan to chisel the names on the marble entrance walls.
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has opposed that plan in particular as a kind of grafitti that would desecrate the nation's most visited and revered monument.
Under a 1976 resolution of Congress, the National Park Service was ordered to "commemorate" the two newest states in some way at the Lincoln Memorial. Cutting the names into the memorial's front wall is but one of a half dozen plans proposed by the Park Service.
Other proposals include chiseling the names of all the states on the monument steps and honoring Alaska and Hawaii with a pair of 50-foot flag poles at the entrance to the memorial, a pair of large fountains near the foot of the Reflecting Pool, or a simple bronze plaque. The plaque is the proposal favored unofficially by some Park Service officials and officially by the National Capital Memorial Advisory Committee, formed in 1976 to monitor the multitude of Washington memorials and monuments. The pair of fountains were included in the original design for the memorial but later were eliminated.
Whatever plan is chosen also must be approved by the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, as well as by the Commission of Fine Arts. The proposed Lincoln Memorial changes are expected to go before NCPC and the advisory council later this spring.
Like many federal buildings around Washington, the memorial was inscribed around its top with the names of the states at the time of the building's completion in 1922. Underneath, above the monument's 36 columns, are the names of the 36 states at the time of Lincoln's death.
Chiseling yet another row of state names into the memorial, or even just the names Alaska and Hawaii, for no other reason than to note that Alaska and Hawaii are now states is not only absurd, according to former AIA board member Leslie N. Boney Jr., but would "desecrate this magnificent memorial."
The Wilmington, N.C., architect, whose position was officially adopted by the AIA in 1976, said this week, "The memorial is a work of art. It should not be messed with . . . just as the painting of Washington and his troops crossing the Delaware with a 13-star flag should not be repainted to show 50 stars."
Boney said Hawaii and Alaska "don't need to have their names on the Lincoln Memorial to prove they're part of the union." There are perhaps dozens of buildings around the nation's capital that list state names, including the Library of Congress, says Boney. "Are we to change them all?"
Alaska already has asked to change the Washington Monument, where the inside is lined with memorial stones from every state and territory except Alaska. A Park Service spokesman said Alaskan officials inquired about two years ago if they could put an Alaskan stone in the Washington Monument.
"We were receptive to the idea, and sent them the dimensions and kind of stone we might accept," said local Park Service official Joe Ronsisvalle.
The 195 Washington Monument stones were donated between 1848 and 1936 by states, cities, foreign countries, Sunday school classes, Firemen, Indian tribes and even individuals from as far away as China. As moratorium on such stones ended the odd assortment of gifts.
Except for Boney and the AIA, few voices have been raised in defense of the Lincoln Memorial. Some Park Service officials are concerned not only about "commemorating" Hawaii and Alaska at the memorial but for the precedent of adding names every time a new state may be created. "Do we add more flag poles or fountains or chisel new names on the walls if the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico or Guam become states?" asked one official, who requested anonymity.
The Park Service, custodian of most of the nation's major federal memorials and monuments, has so far taken no position on the Hawaii-Alaska issue, but the option it unofficially favors appears to be the bronze plaque. In its description of the half-dozen alternatives, it calls the plaque "the most direct and econimical means of fulfilling the intent" of the Congressional resolution. Such a plaque, which could be inside or outside the memorial, would explain the significance of the two series of state names already chiseled on the memorial and "note the subsequent statehood of Alaska and Hawaii."
Although Boney originally had opposed any changes to the monument, he said this week a plaque or perhaps some outdoor landscaping might be appropriate. "I'd heard talk of a flower garden or 50 trees . . . and both Alaska and Hawaii are outdoor states." CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, By William T. Coulter for The Washington Post