After a week of behind-the-scenes maneuvers, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission was expected to decide on a design to honor the World War II general and 34th president.
Instead, the commission had to settle for another delay.
With only five of its 12 members in attendance — two short of a quorum — the Eisenhower Memorial Commission could not publicly vote on whether to approve a motion to present two alternative designs to one of the government agencies that must approve the project before construction can begin.
Instead, the commissioners will have until Wednesday to cast their votes privately. If the motion is approved, dual plans will be presented to the National Capital Planning Commission in an informational session at its Oct. 2 meeting. That means the NCPC will not vote on it, either.
“We are disappointed that we could not have the vote,” said vice chairwoman Susan Banes Harris, who noted that the results of the vote will be made public. “People need to reflect on the two possibilities.”
The options are a downscaled version of the original Frank Gehry design, which was publicly unveiled earlier this month, and a second alternative that jettisons the controversial metal tapestries and columns and retains only the park’s core statuary and landscaping.Gehry has requested that his name be removed from this option.
Although it lacked a public vote, the meeting spotlighted deep divisions among the commissioners about the future of the memorial, to be built along Maryland and Independence avenues SW. The memorial was authorized by Congress in 1999 and was expected to be completed by 2007. The commission Web site predicts a 2017 opening.
Gehry’s initial vision, estimated to cost $140 million, featured 80-foot columns that would support perimeter-defining tapestries depicting images from Eisenhower’s Kansas childhood. Critics blasted the massive structures, while Eisenhower family members questioned their focus on the president’s childhood, saying it diminished his legacy in leading the nation.
Supporters, including many nationally prominent architects and architectural critics, praised Gehry for his reimagining of the traditional memorial.
The Commission of Fine Arts, the agency charged with advising the president and Congress about design issues, has approved the preliminary design. But in the spring, the NCPC — the other government agency that must approve the design before construction can begin — failed to give the go-ahead.
Gehry officials returned earlier this month with a version that jettisoned two of the three steel tapestries but left two columns in place. The NCPC expressed lukewarm support.
But two weeks after the meeting, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) sent the memorial commission chairman a letter asking the commission to provide the NCPC with the alternatives that were discussed Wednesday.
After the commission’s executive architect, Dan Feil, presented the plans, new commissioner Bruce Cole addressed their flaws.
“A great memorial is an exclamation point, not a question mark,” said Cole, noting “the sense of gravitas and awe you experience when you see the statue of Lincoln.”
“Mr. Gehry is a renowned architect, but his gargantuan design . . . gives us none of those feelings. His design lacks human scale. Its eight-story pillars and gigantic steel tapestry dwarf its weak sculptural core.”
Several dozen people attended the meeting, including granddaughter Susan Eisenhower, who had no comment.