- - Monday, August 29, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

You’d think a national monument honoring President Dwight Eisenhower would be a can’t-miss proposition. Unfortunately, the proposed design by architect Frank Gehry to honor the man who guided the Allies to victory in World War II is shaping up to be a failure.

And quite frankly, that’s a good thing.

Don’t misunderstand: Eisenhower should get a memorial. But he deserves one more fitting than what Mr. Gehry has in mind.

His plan calls for a memorial park with two free-standing columns, statues of the nation’s 34th president at various stages of his life, and a 447-foot long, eight-story metal tapestry illustrating Eisenhower’s boyhood home in Abilene, Kan.

And that’s the toned-down version. As Matthew Disler of RealClearPolitics notes in a 2015 article on the memorial: “Initially, metal tapestries surrounded the memorial’s inner core on three sides; the statues of Eisenhower as general and president were bas-reliefs; and the statue of Eisenhower in the center of the memorial depicted him as a ‘barefoot boy,’ in reference to a speech he gave soon after World War II.”

The Eisenhower family says Mr. Gehry’s proposal is “too extravagant” and “tries to do too much.” Long, involved stories are better suited to a museum, they believe.

According to his son, John: “Taxpayers and donors alike will be better served with an Eisenhower Square that is a green, open space with a simple statue in the middle, and quotations from his most important sayings.”

In short, something more like Ike.

The result of this clash of visions? A lengthy stalemate. Last year, the House Appropriations Committee called for a “reset” on the memorial process. Earlier this summer, it recommended that Congress eliminate all funding for the memorial for fiscal 2017.

“The bill report is a great victory for opponents of Gehry’s grandiose design,” Justin Shubow, president of the National Civic Art Society (NCAS), said.

Mr. Shubow’s criticism of Mr. Gehry’s memorial goes beyond the fact that it would be too expensive and too cluttered. He and others object on aesthetic grounds. They argue that a good monument should be easy to understand and beautiful.

One look at the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, and you can see what they mean. There’s a simple, stately grandeur to them. They invite hushed contemplation. They’re not sprawling or unfocused. Visitors get them immediately.

By contrast, Mr. Shubow points to the Franklin Roosevelt memorial: “I think it’s defeatist. The focal point [of the central statue] is his little dog. Everyone squats down and takes cutesy photos with it. It’s a piece of kitsch.”

That, unfortunately, is the inevitable result of the approach many modern architects take. “They think of the word ‘challenging’ and ‘cutting edge,’ but not ‘beauty’,” says NCAS director Milton Grenfell. “We need to reconnect with the great tradition of monument and architecture to go forward — not to reject it wholeheartedly, but to continue with it and evolve with it the way civilizations have always addressed monuments and art.”

Not everyone objects to the Gehry design. Former Sen. Bob Dole has been a vocal supporter, even calling on the Eisenhower Memorial Commission to approve the design quickly for the sake of World War II veterans, “a million aging American heroes who revere Ike and want to honor him before we are all gone.”

We’re losing our World War II veterans all too quickly, it’s true, and it’s a shame that this worthy idea has faced such a protracted delay. But we owe it to President Eisenhower, to future generations and to history to get this right.

“We shape our buildings,” Winston Churchill said. “Thereafter, they shape us.” Making sure that we cast the right mold is paramount. Back to the drawing board.

Ed Feulner is founder of the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

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