Congress pulls floor out from under Eisenhower Memorial Commission

Christopher Bedford Former Editor in Chief, The Daily Caller News Foundation
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Opponents of the design for the proposed national memorial to President Dwight D. Eisenhower won a major victory on Tuesday when the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission’s (EMC) $59.84 million budgetary request for fiscal year (FY) 2013 was flat-out denied.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies did not include any money for the project in its appropriations bill, which was released on Tuesday. In an interesting twist, committee Chairman Rep. Mike Simpson sits on the 11-member EMC board that initially approved the project unanimously.

The board originally had 12 members, but David Eisenhower resigned as protests against the design — by modernist architect Frank Gehry — grew.

According to the request, the nearly-$60 million was requested “to complete construction of the memorial.”

“These funds,” the request said, “will pay for construction, construction management, and EMC operations through memorial completion.”

In FY 2012, the commission “requested and received approximately $32,990,000 to begin construction of the memorial.”

Before the EMC’s recent setback, the total cost for the memorial was estimated to come to $142 million, not including maintenance costs.

The subcommittee’s move comes one week after Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar asked the EMC to stop moving forward with its plans until he could review the proposal, which had effectively postponed government approval until at least September. 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 that was previously scheduled to review the project. The review has since been canceled.

The memorial design has drawn harsh words from the Eisenhower family, despite 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 planned 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.

Though the EMC’s request said that it is prepared to begin construction of the screens using funds from FY 2012, that is unlikely now that the 2013 funds have been withdrawn. 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.”

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

Opposition to the memorial has been spearheaded by the National Civic Art Society (NCAS) — a nonprofit 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 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.”

“The National Civic Art Society is encouraged by the news that the Eisenhower Memorial Commission has not been given any funds in the draft fiscal year 2013 appropriations budget,” NCAS Secretary and Chairman Emeritus Eric Wind told The Daily Caller. “We hope that this will signal that there should be a new, open competition for the Eisenhower Memorial. It is what the American people deserve.”

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