- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Texas congressman who abandoned efforts this summer to “nationalize” the District of Columbia World War I Memorial on the Mall has crafted a revamped bill that would honor Americans who fought and died in the Great War on a site north of the Reflecting Pool.

The House Natural Resources subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands on Tuesday will hear testimony on the proposal by Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican, whose draft legislation now proposes a National World War I Memorial in Constitution Gardens, a shaded section of the federal parkland marked by a large pond just south of Constitution Avenue.

While there is broad consensus that heroes of the conflict from 1914 to 1918 deserve a fitting memorial, the location has been a sticking point for local officials and advocates in the District. City lawmakers and other advocates have pushed for a memorial in Pershing Park, located on Pennsylvania Avenue about a block from the White House.

Mr. Poe’s legislation sets up a commission to ensure proper observance of the centennial of the war and redesignates a memorial in Kansas City, Mo. But the bill’s original iteration sought to add a national designation to the District’s World War I Memorial in a shaded area of West Potomac Park between the Lincoln Memorial and World War II Memorial.

A federal law passed in 2003 prohibits the construction of new memorials in the Mall’s “reserve” — generally defined as the cross-axis from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and from the White House to the Jefferson Memorial — which appeared to leave the District’s site as the only vehicle for a national World War I memorial on the Mall.

But D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s sole voice in Congress, decried the proposal as an affront to more than 600,000 D.C. residents who have no vote on Capitol Hill and face repeated stumbling blocks in their pursuit of greater self-determination.

Mr. Poe’s office told The Washington Times in June that he would no longer pursue a national memorial at the D.C. site, which was dedicated in 1931 to honor the 26,000 city residents who fought in World War I and the 499 who died.

The new version of Mr. Poe’s legislation is dated Aug. 20 and attached to a notice for Tuesday’s hearing. It should be formally introduced before the panel takes testimony at the Rayburn House Office Building, according to subcommittee staff.

Under the plan, the proposed memorial in Constitution Gardens cannot exceed 1.5 acres or cost more than $10 million, and no federal funds may be used. The draft bill also provides an exception for the memorial from the 2003 ban on new commemorative works in the Mall’s reserve.

Edwin L. Fountain, a director at the World War I Memorial Foundation, said Congress should be wary of exceptions to the law, but “if any event is worthy of carving out an exception, it’s World War I.”

His foundation “respectfully disagreed” with Mrs. Norton’s view that the District’s memorial should not be coupled with a national theme. They pursued the D.C. memorial because it was the best way to avoid the complications from the 2003 ban on new works, said Mr. Fountain, who will testify Tuesday.

The prohibition could impede approval of the proposed site in Constitution Gardens, he said, and “I’m sure people will object on that basis.”

One of them is Judy S. Feldman, president of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, who also plans to testify Tuesday.

“Once one project is exempted, of course the floodgates can open,” she said Friday.

Her nonprofit, founded in 2000, supports the moratorium on new commemorative works for now, but argues that the nation needs a forward-looking plan to honor America’s heritage in an expanded Mall. She said Pershing Park would be an appropriate site for the World War I Memorial because it celebrates a general from the conflict. The site is also within the broad “National Mall” area envisioned by the McMillan Plan of 1901, which covers an expanse from the White House to the Capitol and then to the southwest along Maryland Avenue.

In June, the D.C. Council introduced a nonbinding resolution that promotes Pershing Park as an ideal location for a national World War I Memorial.

The park at Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th Street Northwest is named for Gen. John J. Pershing, a distinguished American officer who led crucial campaigns along the Western front against the German army during World War I. Situated about a block from the White House, it features a duck pond surrounded by steps and small tables that attract tourists and workers looking for a midday respite.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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