Move over, Abraham, Martin and Tom: More memorials are seeking space on and near the National Mall as their sponsors seek to ensure that honoring the past never gets old.
The latest project vying for turf in the country’s most exclusive real estate district is the Global War on Terror Memorial, which got off to a fast start last week with a $1 million donation from NewDay USA toward a goal of raising $40 million to $50 million in seven years.
“We did it because it’s critically important that we recognize those who have served and those who have made the sacrifice — many the ultimate sacrifice — to maintain the freedoms and values we cherish in this country,” said Thomas C. Lynch, a retired rear admiral and executive chairman of NewDay, a mortgage lending company for veterans.
Other high-visibility projects in the pipeline include those commemorating former Presidents John Adams and Dwight D. Eisenhower, the doughboys of World War I, the Peace Corps and those who fought in Operation Desert Storm against Iraq.
Can you ever have too many monuments? Congress thought so when it passed the 1986 Commemorative Works Act, establishing rules aimed at curbing memorial creep, then amended it in 2003 to block additional structures from the grassy axis centered on the Washington Monument, known as the Reserve.
“What everyone knows as ‘the Mall’ is part of the Reserve,” said Glenn DeMarr, National Park Service project manager.
Exceptions were made for two projects already underway: the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, which was completed in 2011, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Visitors Center, which is awaiting construction.
Despite concerns that the elegant Mall area will become “cluttered with commemorative bric-a-brac,” as columnist George F. Will put it, tourists aren’t complaining.
The monuments continue to be huge draws. The Lincoln Memorial attracted 7.9 million visitors in 2016, surpassing even the perennial favorite National Air and Space Museum, followed by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, with 5.3 million, and the National World War II Memorial, with 4.8 million, according to the National Park Service.
Of the major new projects, the furthest along is the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, an ambitious 4-acre tribute at the base of Capitol Hill that is expected to break ground before the end of the year after 18 years of planning, fundraising, permitting and battles over design.
The memorial is being built on a park between the National Air and Space Museum, Education Department, Federal Aviation Administration and Health and Human Services Department, all of which have significance for the former president.
“We’re in the final throes,” said Chris Kelley Cimko, spokeswoman for the Eisenhower Memorial Commission.
The global war on terrorism may be the newest campaign, but in some ways that’s an advantage. It’s easier to raise money and interest for memorials that still resonate with Americans, said Andrew J. Brennan, founder and executive director of the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation.
“That is one of the reasons the World War I Memorial is having trouble raising the money, because even though it’s been approved, the funders say, ‘We recognize what was done in that generation and what they did on behalf of the country,’ but there is literally no one alive who can speak to the oral history and be connected to the memorial,” said Mr. Brennan.
A ‘decidedly different’ war
Under the law, planning for war memorials cannot begin until 10 years after the end of the conflict, but Congress suspended the requirement for the war on terror, sparked by the 9/11 attacks in 2001 but with no end in sight. The amorphous nature of the terrorism struggle, spanning battlefields around the world and fought as much through covert action and special operations, also proved a challenge for memorial backers.
Rep. Tom McClintock, California Republican, said in a July 28 floor speech on behalf of the memorial that the war, already the longest conflict in U.S. history, “has been fought in a decidedly different way than our past wars.”
“We should remember that many of our nation’s heroes from World War II never lived to see the completion of the World War II Memorial — which was completed 59 years after the end of that conflict,” Mr. McClintock said.
Winning congressional approval is only the first step. Foundations spend years and even decades raising private donations for the memorials, selecting designs and working with the National Park Service, National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission and Commission of Fine Arts.
The legislation gives foundations seven years to complete the process, but they can and often do apply for extensions. The Adams Foundation has been raising money for a memorial to the nation’s second president since 2001. Planning for the Eisenhower project began in 1999.
The Reserve may be off limits, but that doesn’t mean new memorials can’t be neighbors. The Peace Corps commemorative work is slated for a park less than two blocks from the National Mall adjacent to First Street, C Street and Louisiana Avenue.
It’s still early, but Mr. Brennan has his eye on several plots, including one just north of the Lincoln Memorial within Area 1, located on the periphery of the Reserve.
“Most people walking down what we call the Mall would not see the difference between where the Reserve starts and Area 1 begins,” Mr. Brennan said. “There are some Area 1 sites that we’re looking at that are very much walking distance to the Mall, and I think meet the intent we’re looking for of having a place that is close to the other memorials but not exactly inside the Reserve.”
The National Desert Storm War Memorial won approval in March for a location outside the Reserve but within Area 1. Construction is expected to be completed in 2021.
Mr. Brennan’s goal is to have the project finished no later than the end of the seven-year deadline in September 2024, but if everything goes right, the process could be completed as early as 2022.
“The speed at which this happens is going to be driven by two things: the speed at which the government will allow us to move through the process and how quickly we can raise the money,” Mr. Brennan said.
He is happy about the fast start.
“From what I’ve been told from folks in the community, the first million-dollar check is the hardest to raise,” he said. “We’re thrilled that NewDay USA stepped up and was that first donor for us.”