New images show Ike’s DC memorial amid criticism
Washington ? As critics of a planned monument honoring Dwight D. Eisenhower object to everything from its giant scale to its depiction of the Cold War president and famed World War II general as a “barefoot boy from Kansas,” new images and documents released to The Associated Press reveal other key elements overshadowed by the furor and show how the controversial project developed.
The work by Frank Gehry, to be built as a memorial park just off the National Mall, would feature two stones in “heroic scale,” carved with bas reliefs. Based on new images recently released to The Associated Press, the carvings would depict a famed photo of Ike addressing his troops on the eve of D-Day, and another of the Republican president studying the globe.
Most of the attention and criticism has focused on large metal tapestries, proposed by Gehry to portray Eisenhower’s Kansas roots, and a statue of a young Eisenhower.
As recently as Monday, Rep. Dan Lungren of California, chairman of the House Administration Committee, which oversees the Capitol grounds, and Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock asked the National Capital Planning Commission to re-think the design.
“The current design, which depicts him as a ‘barefoot boy’ from Kansas rather than highlighting his influential roles and accomplishments … is a contemporary design contrary to memorial architecture already on the National Mall,” the Republican congressmen wrote. The “barefoot boy” phrase comes from Eisenhower’s own reminiscences.
For retired Brig. Gen. Carl Reddel, who has helped guide the project for more than a decade, the criticism ignores the core pieces of the memorial that represent Eisenhower’s achievements.
“People started to think about (the tapestry) as the memorial, which it’s not,” Reddel told the AP. The tapestries, he said, would frame a larger memorial park. “The memorial is within this context.”
Susan Eisenhower, the 34th president’s granddaughter, said Tuesday that the new images don’t change how the family feels. She said the tapestries remain problematic, along with the depiction of a young Ike.
“If those metal curtains are not the memorial, then why should we spend lots of money to create an expensive backdrop?” she said. Gehry, she added, should be challenged to come up with other ideas.
Since a federal commission was formed 11 years ago to create the memorial, the challenge has been to represent Eisenhower as both president and as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II. That dual focus was laid out in a law authorizing the monument, said Reddel, director of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission.
“A great president? We’ve had other great presidents. A great general? We’ve had other great generals. But together like that? That raises him to the level of a Washington,” said Reddel, former history department chairman at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
To unify the memorial, Reddel said, Gehry added the statue of a young Eisenhower gazing at what his life would become as war hero and president.
Until recent months, the project’s organizers and Ike’s family seemed unanimous in supporting Gehry’s concept. But as more details trickled out, some members of the Eisenhower family began to object. At the same time, some art critics praised Gehry’s innovation with the tapestry, departing from Washington’s tradition of stone and bronze installations.
Minutes released to the AP by the Eisenhower Memorial Commission show how the design process unfolded with input from Eisenhower’s family.
At the first official meeting in April 2001, Chairman Rocco Siciliano suggested Gehry, famous for his striking structures with undulating exteriors, as an example of the type of architect the group might consider.
Siciliano, who was a special assistant to Eisenhower in the White House, and former Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska pressed the commission to complete the memorial while they and other World War II veterans were still alive. Stevens died in a plane crash in 2010 at the age of 86.
In 2008, the panel decided to follow a federal government program for building projects and drew 44 submissions. Those proposals were narrowed to four finalists within about five months.
By 2009, Eisenhower’s grandson, David Eisenhower, a member of the commission from 2001 until December, had played a central role in selecting Gehry as the lead architect, according to the documents. David Eisenhower was the only person to serve on both the design jury and an evaluation board that recommended Gehry as the top choice to the full commission. When Gehry’s selection was approved, David Eisenhower praised the “integrity and excellence” of the selection process.
Later when Gehry’s proposed tapestries were selected from three designs his firm offered the commission in 2010, he used an image of V-E Day as an example of what the tapestries might depict.
Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts called it a “wonderful concept.” David Eisenhower said he liked the use of a V-E Day image and the freestanding columns that “seem to symbolize the upward emergence of the United States to world power in the mid-20th century,” according to the minutes.
David Eisenhower’s sister, Anne Eisenhower, also attended the meeting and praised Gehry’s design, but said the actual images chosen for the memorial would be important. The commission approved the design unanimously.
At the commission’s latest meeting in July 2011, Gehry revealed he was considering a sculpture of Eisenhower as a boy and images on the tapestries depicting his home in Abilene, Kan., “bringing a representation of America’s heartland directly into the heart of the nation’s capital.” Roberts offered a motion to support Gehry’s concept, David Eisenhower seconded it, and it passed unanimously.
Afterward, however, Eisenhower’s granddaughters, Susan Eisenhower and Anne Eisenhower, began to voice opposition on behalf of their father, John Eisenhower. They said the design overemphasized Ike’s humble roots and neglected his accomplishments.
“We knew him better than anybody,” Susan Eisenhower told the AP. “I just don’t feel any part of him in this.”
A final vote approving Gehry’s design has not yet been taken. The memorial commission hopes to gain approval from a federal panel in April.
Others have echoed their worries. The National Civic Art Society, a group committed to preserving traditional architecture, issued a report questioning the selection process that drew only 44 entries, when other memorials have drawn hundreds of submissions.
“Gehry’s design for the memorial dishonors, mocks and desecrates Eisenhower,” wrote the group’s president, Justin Shubow, saying the design is “topsy-turvy in its proportions.”
Reddel said the discussion should be about how to capture Eisenhower’s legacy, but has veered off course.
“Somehow, we need to raise the level of this discussion,” he said. “People’s attention is being drawn to the memorialization of Ike, but it’s being unfortunately politicized by the nature of the discussion.”