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National Eisenhower Memorial Closer to Breaking Ground

An article in the Washington Post by Lonnae O'Neal Parker reported that yesterday a revised design for the National Eisenhower Memorial was presented to the Eisenhower Memorial Commission for consideration.  If approved, the proposal will be sent on to the National Capital Planning Commission as the next step toward building the $110 million memorial to Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower near The National Mall in Washington, DC.  The original design by architect Frank Gehry received criticism from Eisenhower’s family members and design traditionalists.  Gehry has modified his design, and planners now hope to break ground on the project later this year.

One of the things some people disliked about the original design is that it featured several images of Eisenhower as a boy around his rural home.  Eisenhower was born in Texas, but grew up in Abilene, Kansas where his family moved when he was young.  Critics thought the focus on Eisenhower’s childhood highlighted his unsophisticated origin and failed to celebrate his many accomplishments.  Some of these include graduating from West Point and going on to become a General in the US Army.  By the end of World War II, General Eisenhower was Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Western Europe, and later he served as the 34th President of the United States from 1953 to 1961.

Gehry’s design features large metal tapestries which critics say imply the negative themes of an “iron curtain” or Nazi death camp fences.  These tapestries will still border the memorial, but other changes have been made to the central features.  The original design called for bas-relief sculptures of scenes from Eisenhower’s life.  In the Post article, Parker writes:

“Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Susan Eisenhower, critically compared Gehry’s design to Communist-era decorations that honored ‘Marx, Engels and Lenin’.”

Instead of the bas-relief sculptures, large three-dimensional sculptures of Eisenhower will now illustrate his military and presidential accomplishments.  The Post article explains:

“The new and possibly final design features portrayals of Eisenhower with soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division before the invasion of Normandy and the 1966 Yousuf Karsh ‘Elder Statesman’ photo of Eisenhower as 9-foot statues.  Proposed inscriptions detail his military accomplishments and the “Peace and Prosperity” of his presidency.”

A letter was read at the meeting in which Gehry welcomed the criticism his original proposal had received.  In the letter Gehry stated:

“I love this type of collaboration.  It is a process that I think is vital to the success of any endeavor and one that was necessary to make sense of sometimes contradictory characterizations of President Eisenhower.”

The article quotes Commissioner Alfred Geduldig who said that the design and planning of the project has been going on for 12 years, and that the end may finally be in sight.  He stated: “We’re at a point, looking at these very impressive models, where we really can feel it.”


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