This one came out of nowhere. The raging controversy over the Eisenhower Memorial! The WHAT?? Did anybody even know this was underway? Feelings are running strong about it, including among “advocates of traditional architecture, who are offended by what they perceive as modern tendencies in the Gehry design.”
First problem: Eisenhower Memorial? I’ll start by saying, no, don’t need one! Mediocre president, except for his farewell address warning about the military industrial-complex, which was a good warning and people like to quote it, but it’s had about zero practical effect. Great general? Seems so! But even if he won World War II single-handedly, um, we just built a truly huge World War II Memorial that seems mostly designed to tell visitors what the names of the various states in the union are, or were, or whatever. If you want to acknowledge Eisenhower’s decisive role in that conflict, here’s an idea: PUT IT AT THE WORLD WAR II MEMORIAL!
The nation’s capital is lousy with memorials. It is a theme park of futile efforts to get Americans to understand history through stone-masonry. But here’s my axiom: If you need a memorial to remind people who you were, they won’t care or remember anyway. My evidence? All those named-after-him/her stuff you encounter wherever you live. Mean much to you? Washington is full of traffic circles with metal whomevers sitting on their metal horses. James Buchanan has a very grand memorial here in Meridian Hill Park. I rest my case. If you did something important enough to be remembered, you don’t NEED a memorial. So my paradoxical recommendation? Only build memorials to people who don’t need them. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and yes Martin Luther King Jr, who will surely be remembered anyway, and therefore deserved one.