It took seasoned negotiator and former secretary of state James Baker III to bring together the Eisenhower family and those trying to build a memorial to their grandfather.
The family’s dislike of Frank Gehry’s modern design for an urban park honoring Dwight D. Eisenhower, the World War II general and 34th president, has stalled the project for more than a year and led Congress to reject requests for construction funds.
Baker broke the impasse, and on Monday the Eisenhower Memorial Commission announced the family has agreed to support a revised design for a memorial on a four-acre site on Independence Avenue across from the National Air and Space Museum.
The revision will include a contemporary depiction of the beaches of Normandy, France, the site of the D-Day landings, and Eisenhower’s famous quote about the importance of his Kansas roots: “The proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene.”
In a statement, Susan Eisenhower, one of Eisenhower’s granddaughters, said the “backdrop of Normandy in peacetime is a powerful symbol of [Eisenhower’s] supreme allied command of Europe’s liberation as well as his presidential leadership in securing the peace.”
In a letter to Baker accepting the compromise, Susan Eisenhower wrote that she and her siblings “are pleased that the idea of the young Kansas boy is appropriately featured on the memorial site.” The current design’s statue of a young Ike seated on a wall will probably be replaced, a commission spokeswoman said. Gehry has agreed to make the changes.
Gehry’s current design features a steel tapestry defining the southern perimeter and two stone carvings with statues honoring Eisenhower as general and commander in chief. It required several revisions and almost five years to obtain design approval from two federal agencies.
Baker joined the memorial’s advisory committee last year. Former senator Bob Dole (R-Kan.), a World War II veteran and chairman of the memorial’s finance committee, praised Baker and thanked the Eisenhower family — grandchildren Susan, Anne, Mary Jean and David — for reaching a compromise.
“I couldn’t be more delighted by the news that the family is joining the effort to build Ike’s memorial,” Dole said in a statement. “We look forward to working with them as we make the dream of the memorial a reality.”
The commission’s administrative budget is expected to be included in the next funding request to Congress, but construction money will not be requested until next year. Instead, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the commission’s chairman, will seek a waiver of the requirement that memorials have all funds on hand before work begins, according to his office. If the waiver is granted, the commission can begin work on the site while the design changes are made. The commission spokeswoman said it has about $20 million, including $8 million from private donors.
The memorial was authorized by Congress in 1999. The commission hopes to dedicate it on June 6, 2019, the 75th anniversary of