Obama cabinet member puts brakes on proposed Eisenhower memorial

Nicole Choi Contributor
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Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has asked the Eisenhower Memorial Commission to stop moving forward with their planned Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial until he can review the proposal, effectively postponing government approval until at least September and allowing opponents to rally against the design, by modern architect Frank Gehry.

Salazar’s department oversees the National Park Service, which would maintain the planned memorial. He also sits on the 12-member National Capital Planning Commission, which was set to consider the proposal this month but has since canceled.

The Commission of Fine Arts, which has to approve the design as well, has also decided to not revisit the proposal during its June 21 meeting.

The secretary’s decision comes after public opposition to Gehry’s design — especially from the Eisenhower family.

The memorial design drew harsh words from the Eisenhower family, despite recent revisions Gehry made following public criticism. In a May 30 statement, the family of the former president and World War II commanding general continued its earlier opposition to giant screens Gehry plans to build:

The scope and scale of the metal scrims, however, remain controversial and divisive. Not only are they the most expensive element of the Gehry design, they are also the most vulnerable to urban conditions, as well as wildlife incursions and ongoing, yet unpredictable, life-cycle costs. This one-of-a-kind experimental technology, which serves as the memorial’s “backdrop,” is impractical and unnecessary for the conceptual narrative. For those reasons, we do not support a design that utilizes them.

Eisenhower Memorial

The proposed tapestries are clearly visible in this model of the Eisenhower Memorial park looking west along Independence Avenue. Image: Eisenhower Memorial Commssion and Gehry Partners, LLP, September 2011

Gehry has indicated that the tapestries are critical to his design, and the Washington Post reports that “simply removing them would likely mean the wholesale scuttling of Gehry’s design.”

Opposition to the memorial has been spearheaded by the National Civic Art Society (NCAS) — a non-profit devoted to upholding and promoting Western ideals of classical beauty in art and architecture. NCAS has criticized the “secretive, elitist, and undemocratic” memorial design competition, pointing out that the competition considered 44 entries whereas the National World War II Memorial considered 407.

NCAS has also criticized the Eisenhower Memorial’s proposed design, which the society called an “impious, soulless design … [that] suggests nothing noble or heroic” and “represents a fundamental cleavage with the tradition of national presidential memorials.”

Between now and September, NCAS Chairman Justin Shubow told The Daily Caller that he plans to continue educating the public about the proposed memorial through the press and the NCAS website, adding that since Salazar has taken a personal interest, members of Congress will take greater notice on why Gehry’s design is such a “terrible memorial.”

With the time Salazar’s decision has earned opponents of the memorial, Shubow continued, he hopes that enough support will be raised to reject the design and initiate a new competition that is “open, democratic, and fair” to find a more fitting memorial representative of the widely-respected general and president.

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