The memorial to former President Dwight D. Eisenhower is a go, having achieved approval and permits from the relevant commissions and agencies during an 18-year process fraught with tension over the monument’s design.
The Eisenhower commission hosted a ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony Thursday, celebrating the kick-off of construction and the end to the messy process.
“At last, at last, we’re building at last,” Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, said as he held up a piece of paper with the word “permit” written on it.
Honoring Ike with a memorial has been the passion project of numerous politicians and notables who attended the ceremony, including former Sens. Bob Dole and Tom Daschle, Roberts, and Greta Van Susteren, who emceed the event.
The memorial, a four-acre plot of land on the National Mall nestled between the Department of Education’s headquarters and Independence Avenue adjacent to the National Mall, is scheduled to be open May 8, 2020, the 102nd anniversary of Victory in Europe day.
The final design by architect Frank Gehry incorporates trees and park space, sculptures, bas reliefs, imposing 80-foot-tall columns, trees and a massive tapestry of wire twisted over a metal mesh stretching 447 wide and 80 foot tall. (RELATED: ‘Tangled Rat’s Nest’ To Memorialize Dwight Eisenhower)
Critics of Gehry’s design of the Eisenhower family have vociferously opposed many individual features and at times the entire concept of the memorial. Some descendants of Eisenhower for many years joined in, until Roberts and several others encouraged the family to accept the final design this fall and allow the process to go through the final stages of approval.
“I think the key was getting the family on board. It was a compromise,” Roberts told The Daily Caller News Foundation. President Ronald Reagan’s Treasury Secretary Jim Baker played a crucial role in convincing the family to approve the design as well.
When the new design came out this year, “Bob Dole and I called Jim Baker — Jim Baker is very good friends with Susan [Eisenhower] — and we all agreed on the latest design,” Roberts said.
Susan Eisenhower spoke on behalf of the entire family at the groundbreaking ceremony, and expressed gratitude for the “many, many years of hards work” by the memorial’s backers. “Honestly, Senator Roberts, this would not have happened without you.”
Eisenhower also offered “special appreciation to Secretary James Baker, for his indispensable contribution in bring us to this point,” and also thanked Gehry and his team for their “professionalism, for their hard work and their flexibility in creating this striking memorial.”
“To many it seems we’ve traveled a long road to get to this point, and yet, believe it or not, by historic standards weve arrived all in good time. The FDR memorial took 43 years, so i’d say we’re way ahead of the timeline,” Eisenhower said.
The memorial is “seek to make a statement of who we are today, and what we still believe in as a country,” Eisenhower said. The metal tapestry depicting cliffs around Normandy, France, one of the notable changes in the new design, is “a fitting image which captures the transformational era during which Dwight Eisenhower led our allied forces in Europe during WWII and later during the cold war,” Eisenhower said. The beach of Normandy symbolizes both “sacrifice and freedom,” Eisenhower said.
The original tapestry design depicted a landscape around Eisenhower’s childhood home of Abilene, Kan. The design was changed to a representational image of the beaches of Normandy, in 2015, and updated earlier this year into a more sketch-like design of the cliffs of Pont du Hoc.
“If you’re an architect and you design something, and then you hope to get the approval of the family, not to mention the commissioners that are behind this and the Congress, and bring it together — well, you’re always have people saying, ‘well wait a minute, ‘I don’t think that’s appropriate,’ or ‘wait a minute, I think I could do it a different way.’ That only works so long — 18 years,” Roberts said.
Congress blocked funding for the project for years, and only appropriated the $45 million needed in May.
Among the features of the park, a quote from Eisenhower’s Guildhall Address in London, England, June 12, 1945, will decorate the memorial. “Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in blood of his followers and sacrifices of his friends,” the quote reads.
But the memorial will be a monument to Gehry’s lack of humility, according to Bruce Cole, a member of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission and of the most vocal critics of Gehry’s design.
“Unlike the timeless and moving memorials on the National Mall, the grotesque Eisenhower Memorial will be an object of mockery and confusion to rising generations, who will learn little about Ike, but much about the ego of Frank Gehry, its celebrity architect,” Cole told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Cole chose not to attend the groundbreaking ceremony Thursday.
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