The 12-foot bronze statue of Gen. John J. Pershing may not be the centerpiece of a new World War I memorial at Washington’s Pershing Park, the vice chairman of the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission said Friday.
Edwin L. Fountain said the memorial will include the 35-year-old statue of the famous World War I Army general. But the commission is seeking a design that will be a more inclusive commemoration of those who served in the war.
“We don’t want [the statue] shunted off to the corner,” he said. “But we don’t necessarily want it to be the centerpiece, either.”
Fountain spoke after the federal commission launched an international competition for the new memorial’s design on Thursday.
In December, the government officially designated Pershing Park — at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, near the White House — a national war memorial.
The new site is separate from the elegant, columned D.C. War Memorial, which honors Washington’s World War I veterans, on the Mall.
The new memorial, on the 1.8-acre site, will commemorate the 4.7 million Americans who served during the 1914-1918 “Great War,” which claimed 116,000 American lives. Many places around the world are marking the war’s centennial.
The work is estimated to cost between $20 million and $25 million, Fountain said.
The statue of Pershing, who led American forces in France during the war, will probably remain, he said.
“One . . . challenge will be to incorporate it into a more holistic design for the memorial,” he said.
“The memorial as it stands now, the focus obviously is on Gen. Pershing,” he said. “And with all due respect to him, we’ve moved away from the ‘great man’ approach to war memorials.”
The new focus is on the role, scale and sacrifice of the common soldier, he said: “So we are looking for additional commemorative elements that bring out those things.”
Pershing Park opened in 1981.
The new memorial is to be privately funded. Fountain said the commission in December received a $2.5 million gift from the Pritzker Military Museum & Library in Chicago to help pay for the competition.
In its competition manual, the commission says “the central feature of the park design — a large, sunken area containing an ornamental pool in the summer and an ice-skating rink in the winter — is no longer used or maintained for those purposes.
“As a result, the park landscape is dominated by a flat, concrete square . . . and by an abandoned concession gazebo,” the manual says.
The design competition comes after the commission decided not to lobby for a national World War I memorial on the Mall, which faced opposition from local politicians and the National Park Service, Fountain has said.
The competition will be open to professionals, university students and other interested participants, the commission said.
In the first stage, participants will submit narrative and graphic descriptions of a design concept. Three to five submissions from this first stage will be selected as finalists, and those entries will be further refined and developed in the second stage.
Entries will be evaluated by a jury of individuals from government, the military and the arts, as well as citizens of Washington. The commission said it will make a final decision based on the jury’s recommendation.
The deadline for Stage I submissions is July 21, and Stage II finalists will be announced Aug. 4. The commission expects to announce its selected design in January 2016.
“It’s exciting and daunting at the same time,” Fountain said. “I feel a little bit like someone who throws a party and hopes that people show up.”