The proposed presidential memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower has been in the discussion, planning and public controversy stages since 1999 — slightly longer than World War II and Eisenhower’s eight years in office.
Congress has appropriated $65 million for it. And many millions of dollars have already been spent — and words wasted.
Still, there is no memorial and no approved design.
But the debate continues. The latest volley comes from Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee who are calling the process “a five-star folly.”
That’s the title of a report issued by the committee’s Republican majority. The minority notes the 58-page report “has not been officially adopted by the committee and may not necessarily reflect the views of its Members.” There was no vote on the report.
The report leveled a number of criticisms, most already well-publicized. But its main complaint is that “$41 million has been spent or obligated” including $16.4 million for the firm of famed architect Frank Gehry, with nothing concrete — or metal, for that matter — to show for it.
The report said the process used to select Gehry deviated from federal procedures; that his design was chosen even though a design jury called it “mediocre” and unworthy of “the whole essence of Eisenhower”; and that it’s been modified several times at “millions of dollars in additional costs.”
Despite the fact that the commission’s fundraising firm was “expected to raise $35 million in private funding,” only $500,000 has been raised. $1.4 million went to fundraising companies, the committee said.
Its dissent is just the latest in a long-running controversy about the memorial to the country’s 34th president and five-star general, the hero of Allied victory in World War II. (For some glimpses of how it might look, according to current plans, click here.)
Rocco Siciliano, chairman of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission and a veteran of the Eisenhower administration, put out this statement in response:
It should be noted that the FDR Memorial took 41 years to complete and the controversy surrounding the Vietnam Memorial and the vilification of the young designer, Maya Lin, is still fresh in our minds, yet it is now the most visited memorial in Washington, D.C. It is unfortunate that history appears to be repeating itself with the Natural Resources Committee staff report unfairly and inaccurately attacking Frank Gehry, the Commissioners, and staff.
I take personal exception to the unfounded allegations that the designer selection process was in any way unfair or not in compliance with Federal Acquisition Regulations. America wants this memorial. Let’s get it done.
(He might have added that the Washington Monument took about 50 years to open after it was conceived in 1833, in part because work was interrupted by the Civil War.)
Gehry, in a statement issued to the New York Times, said he regretted “the memorial project has now been engulfed by the political process.”
“So far my firm has dedicated seven years of staff time to this effort, responding to multiple agencies and offices in Washington, consulting with concerned private individuals and undertaking extensive tests and assessments that went far beyond the original scope of services we had been given, and I personally have done all my design work pro bono,” Gehry said.
The Times quoted Susan Eisenhower, the president’s granddaughter who has been critical of the proposal, saying the family was honored so many members of Congress had taken an interest in building the memorial. “There are a number of processes underway, and we’re watching as the events unfold,” she told the Times.
In April, the National Capital Planning Commission voted 7 to 3 to disapprove the design and building plans for the memorial. The commission accepted the NCPC executive director’s recommendation that the Gehry Partners design be amended because of the proposed size, scale and configuration of the large columns and tapestries on the four-acre site in Southwest Washington.
The design’s massive metal tapestries are a focal point of the memorial and have caused controversy among members of Congress, Eisenhower family members and advocacy groups. Gehry’s tapestries are meant to depict the Kansas landscape of Ike’s boyhood home. Statues of Eisenhower as president and World War II general would stand at the park’s center.
The director’s recommendation said the design did not adhere to design principles put forth by the commission, obstructing views of the Capitol along Maryland Avenue.
Corrected to reflect that Republicans are the majority, not the minority, in the committee and to note that there was no vote on the report.