World War I memo­rial plans go through D.C. scru­tiny

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - FRANK E. LOCKWOOD

WASH­ING­TON — Back­ers of a new World War I memo­rial are ea­ger to break ground, but first they have to con­sult with a num­ber of fed­eral bod­ies and com­ply with a thick stack of gov­ern­ment rules and reg­u­la­tions.

The var­i­ous coun­cils and com­mis­sions can ad­vance, de­lay or de­rail a de­sign.

Joseph Weishaar, the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville grad­u­ate who cre­ated the win­ning pro­posal, said he at­tends a lot of meet­ings and doesn’t mind do­ing so.

“It’s part of the process,” he said af­ter his most re­cent public hear­ing.

In May, the World War I Cen­ten­nial Com­mis­sion took its lat­est pro­posal to the Com­mis­sion of Fine Arts, which ap­proved the up­dated de­sign con­cept.

In June, Weishaar and oth­ers met with the Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil on His­toric Preser­va­tion, which re­viewed the pro­posal for more than 90 min­utes.

This Thurs­day, they’re sched­uled to ap­pear be­fore the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, which must sign off on the project be­fore it can ad­vance.

The memo­rial is to be built on a prime piece of real es­tate, just down the street from the White House.

A 2014 law se­lected the site and au­tho­rized the World War I or­ga­ni­za­tion to place “ap­pro­pri­ate sculp­tural and other com­mem­o­ra­tive el­e­ments” there.

Weishaar isn’t the only Arkansan who is shap­ing the memo­rial. Phoebe Lick­war, a pro­fes­sor at UA’s Fay Jones

School of Ar­chi­tec­ture, is the project’s land­scape ar­chi­tect. A New York City sculp­tor, Sabin Howard, will cre­ate the com­mem­o­ra­tive wall.

Be­cause the 1.76-acre par­cel is part of the Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue Na­tional His­toric Site, any changes would au­to­mat­i­cally be care­fully scru­ti­nized.

But the pro­posal is draw­ing ex­tra at­ten­tion be­cause it will be placed in Per­sh­ing Park, which is el­i­gi­ble, on its own, for list­ing on the Na­tional Regis­ter of His­toric Places.

De­signed by M. Paul Fried­berg and sub­se­quently mod­i­fied by the Oehme-Van Swe­den land­scape ar­chi­tec­ture firm, the ex­ist­ing park has na­tional sig­nif­i­cance, ac­cord­ing to the Dis­trict of Columbia State His­toric Preser­va­tion Of­fice. The park, the of­fice de­ter­mined, is “an ex­cep­tional ex­am­ple of a land­scape de­sign of the modern pe­riod and of an ap­proach to the de­sign of public space as an in­te­gral part of the re­vi­tal­iza­tion of an ur­ban neigh­bor­hood in de­cline.”

Since then, ef­forts have been made to avoid or mit­i­gate po­ten­tial ad­verse ef­fects on the site.

Rather than dra­mat­i­cally chang­ing the ex­ist­ing site, Weishaar has scaled back his plans, in­cor­po­rat­ing large por­tions of the ex­ist­ing de­sign.

The pool, orig­i­nally planned for re­moval, has been kept. The bas re­lief wall has been scaled back, from 80 feet to 65 feet.

A statue of John J. Per­sh­ing, the gen­eral of the armies dur­ing World War I, will con­tinue to oc­cupy a place of honor: Weishaar’s orig­i­nal de­sign also re­tained it.

“At this point, re­ally, we’re try­ing to see how much we can get out of mod­i­fy­ing what’s there rather than adding to it or adding new things,” he said. “We start adding new things, and peo­ple want to kind of flick them off.”

At the meet­ings, peo­ple weigh in, some­times sharply crit­i­ciz­ing the ef­fort.

At last month’s ses­sion, Cul­tural Land­scape Foun­da­tion Pres­i­dent Charles Birn­baum warned that the lat­est de­sign would have an ad­verse ef­fect on the “vis­ual and spa­cial con­nec­tiv­ity be­tween the up­per and lower ter­race and plaza,” sig­nif­i­cantly al­ter­ing the ex­ist­ing park.

A re­port, pre­pared for the ad­vi­sory coun­cil, said that mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the ex­ist­ing pool, re­moval of granite planters and the elim­i­na­tion of a kiosk would all have an “ad­verse ef­fect” on the ex­ist­ing park.

Dar­wina Neal, a for­mer Na­tional Park Ser­vice cul­tural re­sources preser­va­tion of­fi­cial, said elim­i­na­tion of a cas­cad­ing wa­ter fea­ture would be harm­ful, a point Birn­baum also stressed.

The pool and the fall­ing wa­ter are in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked, she said.

“Be­cause they’re so sig­nif­i­cant, they’re re­ally the heart, the heart of the whole park,” she added.

In ad­di­tion to the big is­sues, smaller de­tails were also ad­dressed.

Neal even in­quired about the waste re­cep­ta­cles and the drink­ing foun­tains.

Weishaar lis­tened care­fully as peo­ple spoke, keep­ing track of their con­cerns.

When there’s a public hear­ing, “we al­ways know that it’s go­ing to be kind of a rough day,” Weishaar said af­ter­ward. “But it’s re­ally great for us be­cause it gives us a di­rect line of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the public and [we] hear what they think and what they want.”

The com­ments and sug­ges­tions aren’t ig­nored.

The de­sign has evolved over the past 17 months in re­sponse to the feed­back from board mem­bers and other cit­i­zens. Once the changes are made, mem­bers of the de­sign team re­turn and present their re­vised pro­posal.

“The key thing to take away from all these meet­ings is that ev­ery time we have one, it means that we’ve made it to the next step. We can ask the next set of ques­tions and share what we’ve been work­ing on again,” Weishaar said.

None of the ob­sta­cles have proved in­sur­mount­able thus far.

“Over­all, I’m feel­ing good about it,” Weishaar said.

Al­though the re­views take time, they’re nec­es­sary, ac­cord­ing to Chris Wil­son, a pro­gram an­a­lyst with the Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil on His­toric Preser­va­tion.

“This park will be here for 100 [or] 150 years. Maybe for­ever. So it’s im­por­tant,” Wil­son said.

Given the 2014 law, changes at the park are in­evitable, ac­cord­ing to Tom Lue­bke, sec­re­tary of the Com­mis­sion of Fine Arts.

“We ex­pect that there is go­ing to be an ad­verse ef­fect on [the] his­tor­i­cal de­sign from the get-go,” he told crit­ics at last month’s meet­ing. “So we’re go­ing to have to fig­ure out what’s tol­er­a­ble or not.”

Spe­cial to the Demo­crat-Gazette

An artist’s ren­der­ing de­picts the pro­posed World War I Memo­rial in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. In Jan­uary 2016, Joseph Weishaar, a grad­u­ate of the Fay Jones School of Ar­chi­tec­ture at the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville, won an in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion and was se­lected as the project’s designer.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette

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