New images, doc­u­ments fail to win over crit­ics

The Washington Times Daily - - Life - BY BRETT ZONGKER

As crit­ics of a planned mon­u­ment to Dwight D. Eisen­hower ob­ject to ev­ery­thing from its gi­ant scale to its depic­tion of the Cold War pres­i­dent and famed World War II gen­eral as a “bare­foot boy from Kansas,” new images and doc­u­ments re­leased to the As­so­ci­ated Press re­veal other key el­e­ments over­shad­owed by the furor and show how the con­tro­ver­sial project de­vel­oped.

The work by Frank Gehry, to be built as a me­mo­rial park just off the Mall, would fea­ture two stones in “heroic scale,” carved as bas re­liefs. Based on new images re­leased re­cently to AP, the carv­ings would de­pict a famed photo of Ike ad­dress­ing his troops on the eve of D-day and an­other of the Re­pub­li­can pres­i­dent study­ing the globe.

Most of the at­ten­tion and crit­i­cism have fo­cused on large me­tal ta­pes­tries pro­posed by Mr. Gehry to por­tray Eisen­hower’s Kansas roots and on a statue of a young Eisen­hower.

As re­cently as Mon­day, Rep. Daniel E. Lun­gren of Cal­i­for­nia, chair­man of the House Ad­min­is­tra­tion Com­mit­tee, which over­sees the Capi­tol grounds, and Rep. Aaron Schock of Illi­nois asked the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Plan­ning Com­mis­sion to re­think the de­sign.

“The cur­rent de­sign, which de­picts him as a ‘bare­foot boy’ from Kansas rather than high­light­ing his in­flu­en­tial roles and ac­com­plish­ments ... is a con­tem­po­rary de­sign con­trary to me­mo­rial ar­chi­tec­ture al­ready on the Na­tional Mall,” the Re­pub­li­can con­gress­men wrote. The “bare­foot boy” phrase comes from Eisen­hower’s own rem­i­nis­cences.

For re­tired Brig. Gen. Carl W. Red­del, who has helped guide the project for more than a decade, the crit­i­cism ig­nores the core pieces of the me­mo­rial that rep­re­sent Eisen­hower’s achieve­ments.

“Peo­ple started to think about [the ta­pes­try] as the me­mo­rial, which it’s not,” Gen. Red­del told the AP. The ta­pes­tries, he said, would frame a larger me­mo­rial park. “The me­mo­rial is within this con­text.”

Su­san Eisen­hower, the 34th pres­i­dent’s grand­daugh­ter, said Tues­day that the new images don’t change how the fam­ily feels. She said the ta­pes­tries re­main prob­lem­atic, along with the depic­tion of a young Eisen­hower. Mr. Gehry, she added, should be chal­lenged to come up with other ideas.

Since a fed­eral com­mis­sion was formed 11 years ago to cre­ate the me­mo­rial, the chal­lenge has been to rep­re­sent Eisen­hower as both pres­i­dent and as Supreme Al­lied Com­man­der in Europe dur­ing World War II. That dual fo­cus was laid out in a law au­tho­riz­ing the mon­u­ment, said Gen. Red­del, di­rec­tor of the Eisen­hower Me­mo­rial Com­mis­sion.

“A great pres­i­dent? We’ve had other great pres­i­dents. A great gen­eral? We’ve had other great gen­er­als. But to­gether like that? That raises him to the level of a Washington,” said Gen. Red­del, for­mer his­tory depart­ment chair­man at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

To unify the me­mo­rial, Gen. Red­del said, Mr. Gehry added the statue of a young Eisen­hower gaz­ing at what his life would be­come as war hero and pres­i­dent.

Un­til re­cent months, the project’s or­ga­niz­ers and Eisen­hower’s fam­ily seemed unan­i­mous in sup­port­ing Mr. Gehry’s con­cept. But as more de­tails trick­led out, some mem­bers of the fam­ily be­gan to ob­ject.

Min­utes re­leased to the AP by the Eisen­hower Me­mo­rial Com­mis­sion show how the de­sign process un­folded with in­put from Eisen­hower’s fam­ily.

At the first of­fi­cial meet­ing in April 2001, Chair­man Rocco Si­cil­iano sug­gested Mr. Gehry, fa­mous for his strik­ing struc­tures with un­du­lat­ing ex­te­ri­ors, as an ex­am­ple of the type of ar­chi­tect the group might con­sider.

In 2008, the panel de­cided to fol­low a fed­eral gov­ern­ment pro­gram for build­ing projects and drew 44 sub­mis­sions. Those pro­pos­als were nar­rowed to four fi­nal­ists within about five months.

By 2009, Eisen­hower’s grand­son, David Eisen­hower, a mem­ber of the com­mis­sion from 2001 un­til De­cem­ber, had played a cen­tral role in se­lect­ing Mr. Gehry as the lead ar­chi­tect, ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ments. Mr. Eisen­hower was the only per­son to serve on both the de­sign jury and an eval­u­a­tion board that rec­om­mended Mr. Gehry as the top choice to the full com­mis­sion. When Mr. Gehry’s se­lec­tion was ap­proved, Mr. Eisen­hower praised the “in­tegrity and ex­cel­lence” of the se­lec­tion process, ac­cord­ing to the min­utes.

Later, when Mr. Gehry’s pro­posed ta­pes­tries were se­lected from three designs his firm of­fered the com­mis­sion in 2010, he used an im­age of V-E Day as an ex­am­ple of what the ta­pes­tries might de­pict.

Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas called it a “won­der­ful con­cept.” Mr. Eisen­hower said he liked the use of a V-E Day im­age and the free-stand­ing col­umns that “seem to sym­bol­ize the up­ward emer­gence of the United States to world power in the mid-20th cen­tury,” ac­cord­ing to the min­utes.

Mr. Eisen­hower’s sis­ter, Anne Eisen­hower, also at­tended the meet­ing and praised Mr. Gehry’s de­sign but said the ac­tual images cho­sen for the me­mo­rial would be im­por­tant. The com­mis­sion voted unan­i­mously to sup­port the de­sign, ac­cord­ing to meet­ing min­utes.

At the com­mis­sion’s lat­est meet­ing, in July 2011, Mr. Gehry re­vealed that he was con­sid­er­ing a sculp­ture of Eisen­hower as a boy and images on the ta­pes­tries de­pict­ing his home in Abi­lene, Kan., “bring­ing a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Amer­ica’s heart­land di­rectly into the heart of the na­tion’s cap­i­tal.” Mr. Roberts of­fered a mo­tion to sup­port Mr. Gehry’s con­cept; Mr. Eisen­hower sec­onded it, and it passed unan­i­mously.

Af­ter­ward, how­ever, Eisen­hower’s grand­daugh­ters, Su­san and Anne Eisen­hower, be­gan to voice op­po­si­tion on be­half of their fa­ther, John Eisen­hower. They said the de­sign overem­pha­sized Eisen­hower’s hum­ble roots and ne­glected his ac­com­plish­ments.

“We knew him bet­ter than any­body,” Su­san Eisen­hower told the AP. “I just don’t feel any part of him in this.”

On Tues­day, Anne Eisen­hower said the fam­ily asked me­mo­rial plan­ners for a “sim­ple, hum­ble” me­mo­rial as early as 2005. She said many de­tails from the past meet­ing min­utes are not ac­cu­rate. She said her brother, David, never voted for Mr. Gehry as the ar­chi­tect.

Mr. Eisen­hower has de­clined to com­ment since re­sign­ing from the com­mis­sion in De­cem­ber.

A final vote to ap­prove Mr. Gehry’s de­sign has not been taken. The me­mo­rial com­mis­sion hopes to gain ap­proval from a fed­eral panel in April.

Oth­ers have echoed the fam­ily’s wor­ries. The Na­tional Civic Art So­ci­ety, a group com­mit­ted to pre­serv­ing tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­ture, is­sued a re­port ques­tion­ing the se­lec­tion process, which drew just 44 en­tries although other me­mo­ri­als have drawn hun­dreds of sub­mis­sions.

“Gehry’s de­sign for the me­mo­rial dis­hon­ors, mocks and des­e­crates Eisen­hower,” wrote the group’s pres­i­dent, Justin Shubow, say­ing the de­sign is “topsy-turvy in its pro­por­tions.”

GEHRY PART­NERS VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

An artist’s ren­der­ing shows part of the de­sign for the planned Dwight D. Eisen­hower me­mo­rial on the Mall, in­clud­ing an im­age of Eisen­hower as pres­i­dent study­ing a globe.

GEHRY PART­NERS VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

An artist’s ren­der­ing of part of the planned me­mo­rial for Dwight D. Eisen­hower on the Mall shows him ad­dress­ing his troops on the eve of D-day. Fam­ily mem­bers say the me­mo­rial overem­pha­sizes his Kansas roots at the ex­pense of his ac­com­plish­ments.

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