- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Five design concepts advanced Wednesday to the next stage of a competition to turn a downtown D.C. park into a national memorial to World War I.

The concepts, whittled from a field of 350 entries, were selected by an independent jury appointed by the World War I Centennial Commission, a body tasked with recognizing the 1914-1918 conflict.

Commission Chairman Robert Dalessandro said each of the submissions offered up “an important tribute” to veterans of World War I, the only major 20th century conflict that is not memorialized on the National Mall.

Its omission has irked historians, descendants of veterans and others, and the path to selecting Pershing Park — a small block near the White House, D.C. city hall and the historic Willard Hotel — was a tortured one, after D.C. officials objected to “nationalizing” the city’s World War I site in a tree-lined section near the Lincoln Memorial.

Concepts that will advance to the second stage of the competition range from the solemn “Plaza to the Forgotten War” — it would employ 1,166 “illuminated bronze markers,” or one for every hundred U.S. deaths in the war — to an “American Family Portrait Wall” incorporating a series of photographs that celebrate “the bonds that were forever created, the friendships that were sealed, the covenant of brotherhood that echoes even today.”

People from around the globe were eligible to submit their ideas, after the commission decided not to solicit concepts from just a small groups of well-known architects.

In the coming months, the selected concepts will be fine-tuned with help from the commission and public agencies with final say over the memorial. The commission hopes to select a winner by January 2016.

Not everyone was thrilled with Wednesday’s announcement. The Cultural Landscape Foundation, a nonprofit, said each of the proposed designs would effectively demolish the existing park, which opened along Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th Street in 1981.

“The five finalist World War I Memorial designs call for the demolition of one of the most important public spaces commissioned by the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation, and a work by three master landscape architects,” said foundation President and CEO Charles A. Birnbaum.

The World War I Memorial’s planners landed on Pershing Park as a natural fit for the memorial, because it is named for famous World War I Gen. John J. Pershing. Yet some advocates said the memorial should be located on the main cross-section of the Mall with the other memorials to overseas wars.

A 2003 law, though, essentially banned new commemorative works on the strip of federal land, making it difficult to construct a new memorial after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened along the Tidal Basin.

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