Eisenhower family objects to expensive, garish DC monument

Will Rahn Senior Editor
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The family of the late Dwight Eisenhower has come out against a planned memorial to the former president that they believe is inappropriate, unsustainable and not in keeping with his wishes.

Plans for the memorial, designed by architect Frank Gehry, call for a life-size statue of a barefoot, seven-year-old Ike surrounded by eight-story-tall pillars. The pillars hold up basketball court-sized steel mesh tapestries that show images of barren Kansas plains.

The memorial will cover a four-acre space just off the National Mall, and is expected to cost taxpayers roughly $100 million.

“We were under the impression that the design that Mr. Gehry put together was kind of a work in progress,” Susan Eisenhower, the president’s granddaughter, told The Daily Caller. “They changed the concept rather significantly in 2011, and then the next thing we heard it was on the fast track for approval.”

Susan Eisenhower said her grandfather, whom she knew well, would have hated the design.

“[The memorial] could be modern, but it needs to be simple, elegant and sustainable,” she said. “Because that is where we are in our history, and that is how he wanted to be remembered.”

“We were there for his deathbed wishes,” she continued. “I know this. All of us in our family are quite confident on this point.”

Yet despite the family’s objections, Gehry’s plans for the memorial have progressed, prompting Susan’s sister Anne Eisenhower to write to the National Capital Planning Commission on the family’s behalf.

In her letter, Anne argued that the current design does not meet Congress’ criteria for a durable memorial celebrating the president’s accomplishments. She also argued that the mesh tapestries are bound to collect blowing debris that could easily make the memorial look “dated or uncared for in a matter of years.”

“The Eisenhower family is requesting an indefinite delay in the design approval and ground breaking — pending further discussions with the family significantly changing the concept, scale and scope of the memorial,” the letter read.

David Eisenhower, Susan and Anne’s brother, resigned from the commission overseeing the memorial to protest Gehry’s design. But so far the family’s complaints have fallen on deaf ears.

“Contrary to what certain people are saying, and I recognize that some people don’t think the family has much of a say in this, but we’re really representing [President Eisenhower’s] interests,” Susan Eisenhower said. “All of us knew him very well. All of us were on the verge of marriages when he died. I was in my thirties when my grandmother died. We lived on an adjacent farm. I mean, we knew them very well.”

The Eisenhower family is not alone in their objections to the current design. Writing in National Review, conservative commentator and activist George Weigel blasted the planned memorial as a “travesty” that was “steamrolled through the federal bureaucracy.” And National Civic Art Society president Justin Shubow has written a book-length denunciation of the project.

“I can’t find anyone who likes this design,” Shubow told TheDC. “Does anyone think it’s beautiful or uplifting?”

Shubow’s organization now has a website cataloging the complaints over Gehry’s design and how he was chosen as the memorial’s architect.

Typically, memorial design competitions can be entered by just about anyone. Maya Lin, the architect behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, was an undergraduate at Yale when she submitted her iconic design. But Gehry was chosen after 44 other entries were submitted — and he was not required to propose an actual design.

“We wonder whether there was a true competition at all,” Shubow told TheDC.

The National Civic Art Society and the Eisenhowers also complain that the man responsible for constructing the statue of Eisenhower as a boy, Charles Ray, is famous for his sculptures of group sex and naked children.

“Without making any comments about Charles Ray’s artistic following — I’m sure he has a significant one, Frank Gehry speaks very highly of him — but I think it’s not hard to see that he is absolutely not the person who should sculpt Dwight Eisenhower,” Susan Eisenhower said.

For now, critics of the project are trying to publicize their objections to its design. A National Planning Commission meeting has been scheduled for March to discuss the memorial. The meeting is open to the public.

“The entire process — the competition and design itself — has flown completely under the radar,” Shubow said. “We think that as soon as Congress and the American people see what’s going on, they’re going to share our disgust.”

Both Daniel Feil, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission’s executive architect, and John Bowers, Gehry’s representative on the project, did not respond to TheDC’s requests for comment on this story.

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