Dispute over Eisenhower memorial

Family members voice concerns over design

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Retired Brig. Gen. Carl Reddel, executive director of the 12-member Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission, said in 2006 that the commission “wants this memorial in its totality to tell the Eisenhower story, which is a great story, and tell it in the context of the American story.”

Eisenhower graduated from West Point and served in World War I before being named commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces during World War II. As president from 1953 to 1961, he is credited with creating the Interstate Highway System and beginning the security policies that led to the peaceful resolution of the Cold War decades later.

To execute the commission’s vision for a memorial honoring his achievements, members in 2009 chose Mr. Gehry from a competition of 44 design firms. Mr. Gehry’s contemporary-style buildings include Los Angeles’ Disney Concert Hall and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

At a March 25, 2010, meeting of the memorial commission, David Eisenhower, then a member of the memorial commission, described Mr. Gehry’s design of his grandfather’s memorial as “very striking,” according to meeting minutes.

The initial design did not include the child statue of Eisenhower.

Mr. Gehry presented the specifics of the design at a commission meeting July 12, 2011.

“The overall effect would be designed for maximum impact on future generations of children,” he said at the meeting.

Sen. Jerry Moran, Kansas Republican and a member of the memorial commission, spoke in favor of the design, calling it a vision of the heartland brought to Washington, D.C.

“The vision conveyed the unmistakable message that people from humble beginnings could rise to world stature,” he said, according to meeting minutes.

Controversy ensues

The release of the design choice sparked a public battle between supporters who said the memorial would reflect Eisenhower’s roots and his values, and opponents who said it did not do justice to his accomplishments.

After the Eisenhower family voiced its objections, David Eisenhower resigned from the memorial commission in December. In January, the family wrote the National Capital Planning Commission, which must give its blessing to the design, asking for an “indefinite postponement” pending a review.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, Texas Republican and a member of the memorial commission, said he appreciated the family’s comments but that they were not the project’s only stakeholders.

“There’s no doubt that Anne Eisenhower is calling around and making her concerns known. I respect the family’s concerns, and the commission has asked for their input,” he said. “But ultimately, it’s not the family memorial to Eisenhower, it’s the national memorial to Eisenhower.”

But the family’s criticism was enough to prompt Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, to issue a letter to the planning commission last month calling the design “inappropriate” and supporting the Eisenhower family’s call for a delay.

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