This one’s for Lawrence.
The House Committee on Natural Resources has called the proposed Eisenhower Memorial “a five-star folly”. That’s actually the title of their report, which is subtitled (just in case you didn’t get the point), “An Investigation into the Cost Increases, Construction Delays, and Design Problems That Have Been a Disservice to the Effort to Memorialize Dwight D. Eisenhower”.
This has been going on since 1999. So far, according to the report, “Approximately $41 million has been spent or obligated so far, including almost $16.4 million for the designer and more than $13.3 million to the multiple parties responsible for managing the design process and providing administrative support.” And there’s basically nothing to show for it.
Except for the design itself, which lots of people don’t like. Including the Eisenhower family.
Congress subsequently withheld construction funds for the memorial two years in a row, and this month, the House released a draft budget that also zeros out operating funds and calls for a new design competition. In April, the National Capital Planning Commission voted 7 to 3 to oppose the design. The House committees on oversight and appropriations are also investigating the memorial.
The designer? Lawrence’s favorite living architect, Frank Gehry. To be fair to Mr. Gehry (who I actually kind of like), this wouldn’t be the first time a controversial memorial design in DC has turned out okay. And I’m not clear on what exactly the objections are:
Mr. Gehry’s original concept to honor the World War II military leader and 34th president called for a four-acre site partly enclosed by transparent woven metal tapestries displaying images of the Kansas plains, where Eisenhower grew up. The most contentious element initially was a statue of the young Eisenhower sitting on a low stone wall, a characterization inspired by a photograph of him at that age and by a homecoming speech he made after the war in which he recalled his days as a “barefoot boy.”
That doesn’t sound too awful or disrespectful to me.
In response to objections that this was insufficiently respectful, Mr. Gehry replaced the child with Eisenhower as a 20-year-old West Point cadet and changed his depictions of two famous photographs into statues instead of bas-reliefs. But family members still expressed concerns that the design was costly, undignified and would require too much maintenance.
Yeah, I don’t get the “undignified” thing, either. But I haven’t seen anything other than the photo in the NYT. I do find it interesting that, according to the congressional report, the initial jury thought all of the submitted designs were “mediocre” and wanted a second round of submissions. Whoever was in charge overruled the jury and picked Gehry’s design.
And there’s other boondoggles, too. Sole source contracts, paying $1.4 million to fundraising firms (which have managed to raise about $500,000), questions about ongoing maintenance costs, etc. etc. etc.
I like Ike. But I have serious questions about our need for an Eisenhower Memorial outside of the Eisenhower Presidential Center and about the design process for this one.