The 12-foot-tall bronze statue of Gen. John J. Pershing will probably remain in his namesake park, though it might not be the centerpiece of the new memorial, a federal commission has said. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

The gigantic entrenching ax several stories high didn’t make the list.

Nor did the towering bronze wreath of fallen leaves, representing the American war dead.

Nor did the huge metal sculpture that looked like a paper plane standing on its nose.

On Wednesday, when a federal commission unveiled the five design finalists for the creation of a national World War I Memorial in the District’s Pershing Park, it chose less radical, if less eyepopping, concepts.


The winners range from a plan to decorate the park with haunting in-ground period photographs, to a design for a large traditional stone monument, to others that use inventive landscape and lighting ideas.

The World War I Centennial Commission said it looked at more than 300 submissions , and a stunning array of designs, from around the world.

“There was certainly a lot of imagination and creativity put into these,” said Edwin L. Fountain, the panel’s vice chairman.

But he said the new site needs to serve as a memorial and an urban park as well as harmonize with its surroundings. “Some of those designs, although creative, wouldn’t necessarily harmonize with the D.C. urban scape,” he said.

The pocket-size, 1.8-acre park at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue is a few blocks from the White House and near a major visitor crossroad in the city’s monumental core.

The 35-year-old park — which honors American Gen. John J. Pershing — was named a national war memorial by the government in December 2014.

The park features a 12-foot-tall bronze statue of Pershing, who led American forces in France during the war. The statue will probably be retained, though it might not be the centerpiece of the memorial, the commission has said.

The five design finalists are titled: “Plaza to the Forgotten War,” “World War One Memorial Concept,” “The Weight of Sacrifice,” “An American Family Portrait” and “Heroes’ Green.”

“These are design concepts,” Fountain said. “There’s a lot of work to do on all of them, which is par for the course. What I like is that they represent a very diverse array of stylistic approaches.”

Among entries that didn’t make the list was “The Honor,” which featured a 37-foot-tall, 74-foot-wide World War I helmet resting upside down.

Another was titled “Reflection Crater” and displayed a large abstract shell crater with a polished steel mirror at the bottom.

Yet another, “Forest of the Fallen,” resembled the bristles of a huge brush suspended in air, bristles facing down.

The design competition began May 21, and the winning design will probably be announced in January, the commission said.

The project will cost an estimated $20 million to $25 million, Fountain has said, and will be privately funded. In December, the commission received a $2.5 million gift from the Pritzker Military Museum & Library in Chicago to help pay for the competition.

The war memorial 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 now marking the war’s centennial.

The current Pershing Park has seen better days. “Certainly, when it was designed and built, it was a perfectly nice park,” Fountain said. “It has failed of its original purpose.”

The commission, in its competition manual, said “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.

But not everyone wants to see the park completely redone.

Washington’s Cultural Landscape Foundation, a nonprofit advocate for landscape architecture, notes that the park’s design is an important work by noted modernist landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg.

And the park’s planting arrangement was done by the influential Washington firm of Oehme, van Sweden & Associates, the foundation said.

It’s a “pioneering work of modernism/post-modernism that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the U.S.,” said Charles A. Birnbaum, the foundation’s president.

“We do believe that . . . those features which are the most significant should be preserved and restored,” he said Wednesday. “And those aspects . . . of the design that are not functioning should be revisited.”

“We believe that a World War I memorial can be the key to revitalizing that park without destroying its design significance,” he said.

The park’s design competition followed the commission’s decision not to lobby for a national World War I memorial on the Mall, a location that local politicians and the National Park Service opposed.

The new site is separate from the elegant, columned D.C. War Memorial, which honors Washington’s World War I veterans, on the Mall.

To see the 5 finalists’ designs, go to wapo.st/DesignFinalists.