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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.