New images fail to win over critics of Eisenhower memorial

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.

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. New images give more details about the memorial but have not quelled criticism. (Gehry Partners via Associated Press)

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An artist’s rendering shows part of the design for the planned Dwight ... more >

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.

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