Let’s Engage on the Real Issues with Ike’s Memorial

One of the oldest ploys in the strategist’s handbook is to create side skirmishes of little value, except as a way to avoid or delay fully engaging the “enemy” or “adversary” in real battle. This may be why staff members of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission have spent little time arguing the merits of the Gehry design. Instead, it seems, they are more interested in igniting mini-battles over non-issues. These side-offensives, however, threaten to turn into circular firing squads.

In a rebuttal to my Q&A with the Washingtonian’s Carol Joynt, Dan Feil, chief architect for the commission, was off-base on a number of important points. If his assertions go un-countered, they could become “facts.”

Much has been made of my brother David Eisenhower’s resignation from the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. We are now – out of necessity – going public.  This is what happened: 

David stepped down after assuming the position of Chairman of the Eisenhower Foundation. Unlike the commission, this organization is chartered to support the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum. In David’s resignation letter, he cited a conflict of interest and requested that our sister Anne –who is a professional designer – serve as the Eisenhower family representative on the memorial commission. Since David made his request, we have received no response from the commission expressing their willingness to support Anne’s appointment.

The relevance of David’s former position on the commission has been overstated. John S.D. Eisenhower, our father and Dwight Eisenhower’s heir and executor of his will, is the principal stakeholder in the Eisenhower family. In my father’s recent letter to the family, he clearly states his preferences.

Amazingly, Mr. Feil suggests that the family has “had its say…David Eisenhower was a commissioner. But he quit.” The fact is, my father’s authority stands above his children’s, and the Eisenhower family did not “quit.” We have formally asked to have my sister Anne replace David.  Furthermore, we have every bit as much standing to ask questions of a publicly funded commission as other Americans, and just as much right to do so without having our motives questioned.

Proposed white fiberglass “barefoot boy” statue (circled in red) for the Eisenhower Memorial. Please note the translucent metal tapestries in the background.

David has repeatedly told family members that he supported another architect during the selection process for the memorial designer. However, after Gehry was selected by his peers, David sought to be a constructive member of the commission. It is perfectly understandable that David voted for continued development of the memorial on July 12, 2012. I would have, too. David did so in the context of Chairman Rocco Siciliano’s charge to the commission that day.  The Commission minutes read:

Chairman Siciliano directed the Commissioners’ attention to the enhanced “greening” of the site plan and the repositioning of the smaller frontal tapestries, noting that some design elements were not yet final. The Chairman explained that in light of the on-going evolution of the design, no approval would be taken as yet. But the Commissioners would be invited to review and possibly endorse the work to date, either individually or collectively.

The Eisenhower family has responded to Chairman Siciliano’s request. We collectively reviewed the design and considered the new concept of the “barefoot boy,” which was a recent change. Along with our research, we provided our list of concerns to the commission staff —privately at first. We only went public after it was clear that they planned to disregard our views and after we gave them a chance to constructively engage in dialogue with us. Subsequently, we had a cordial meeting with Mr. Gehry, but it was to no avail. We do not want to see the evolving, unapproved design on a “fast track” for NCPC approval and a groundbreaking without further, detailed discussions.

David Eisenhower has been a part of family discussions on the memorial since his resignation. In an email dated January 17, he wrote family members that no final vote on the design has been taken. He added: “I am very relieved that the design issues have been reopened…it should be given the objections raised…This was done by the Commission itself in its decision not to approve a formal design last summer.”

In the same email, consistent with his resignation letter, he expressed the importance of passing the baton to Anne because of her expertise and also his new responsibilities at the Foundation. Since Anne is now the point person, and we are in agreement, he will not take press calls.

The parameters of the memorial are still evolving, as Chairman Siciliano told the commission this summer. The Washingtonian article, however, added a new wrinkle.

In the interview, Feil remarkably told Joynt that the woven metal tapestries—“are not the memorial.” He said, “They are the setting for the memorial.”

If this is the case, then the public is now invited to ask itself why the most expensive and unsustainable element of the memorial design is only its backdrop.

This opens the way to discuss the vision I had hoped we would pursue all along.  Before the selection of the designer, I was briefed by Dan Feil about Eisenhower Square as a public green. It was already possible for some of us to recognize the power and simplicity of an Eisenhower Square, which could serve as a welcoming space to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education Building and the Air and Space Museum. In my mind, it also had enough acreage to accommodate two focal points of Eisenhower’s leadership: in war and in peace.

Why not challenge Mr. Gehry to come up with some new ideas that don’t include this non-essential “setting”? Since the tapestries are now apparently “not the memorial,” it seems simple just to eliminate them and concentrate, as Feil says, on the memorial’s core.

Whatever happens next, the one imperative is to reiterate the rules of engagement for everyone involved or interested in the Eisenhower memorial. Whatever idea is advanced must be debated on the merits of the design, its sustainability and the appropriateness of its thematic concept. To engage in mini-battles on tangential issues risks unnecessary rounds of friendly fire. Furthermore, it would engender a public debate unworthy of Dwight Eisenhower, who had a deep and abiding commitment to respectful, fact-based dialogue.

26 thoughts on “Let’s Engage on the Real Issues with Ike’s Memorial

  1. I cant tell in my searching if the barefoot boy statue and the metal curtains were abandoned for IKES memorial. Hope they were.

  2. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I could leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading what you all have to say

  3. Susan, is there a place where we can see a picture of the statue? I’ve looked at multiple sites online and have not been able to find an image. Which is another thing I find troubling about this monument. There are plenty of pictures and diagrams of the surrounding structures to be found, but none of the most important element, the statue. As has already been made abundantly clear, the surrounding structures will be large and the statue will be small. But how small. The more I look at the overall design, the more I wonder if this is a monument to Ike, or a works project to lower the unemployment numbers. Will Ike be an after-thought after the rest of the structures are built? I hate to say that, because I don’t want to bring partisan politics into the discussion. But the fact that images of the surrounding structures are readily available, but the statue isn’t, makes me suspicious about the motivations of some when it comes to this monument. I apologize if that came out wrong, but diplomacy’s never been my strong suit.

  4. The design competition for this memorial should have relied on ordinary citizens for whom Ike is living memory. Instead it favored artistic luminaries with predictably disappointing results. In my opinion, a sturdy structure with water flow would be appropriate in its simplicity and dynamism, reflecting the unity, strength and singularity that in my mind best represent the Eisenhower legacy. Instead the emphasis on an intellectualized theme has led to an overwrought memorial whose greatest accomplishment is to celebrate the artist. Great works of architecture immortalize great architects. The greatest memorials however, immortalize the memories of the people.

  5. I think Mr. Gehry has forgotten who this memorial about; not him, but Ike. That is the central failure of a lessor man trying to assert himself over a much greater man and those who would revise the presentation of a man who makes their comtemporary political correctness uneasy.

  6. Gehry and his staff have put themselves on parade in a childish fit of their own egotism, memorializing their own “greatness” as architects. This is a momumental insult to all who lived through World War II and loved FREEDOM enough to fight for it. My own now-deceased husband was decorated TWICE for Heroism Above and Beyond the Call of Duty during World War II, thus this monstrosity is a personal insult to me.
    Who gives a bleep about Gehry’s architectural talent — what we care about is that future generations understand that it was largely Eisenhower’s talent that saved the world from one of the worst tyrannies in recorded human history.
    Gehry and the committee who chose this plan should be fired ! Their design would be a joke if it were not such a colossal travesty….. “Do it right or don’t do it at all ! “

  7. I DO believe we need a monument to General/President Eisenhower, but this is not it. I thought I’d clarify my earlier statement in that regards.

  8. We’re talking about a man of such humility that he chose to be “buried in a government-issue, eighty-dollar pine coffin, wearing his famous Ike jacket with no medals or decorations other than his insignia of rank” (quoting from Jean Edward Smith’s new biography of Ike). Such a man would be appalled by this costly and extravagant monument that seems more an ode to the flamboyance of Frank Gehry the architect than a tribute to the general and president it’s supposed to honor. It seems to me, something simpler would have have been preferable to Eisenhower. This is a case where “less is more”, not only because this nation is already too far in debt, but because the Eisenhower family doesn’t want this monument. And I doubt Ike would have wanted it either.

  9. The Eisenhower silver dollar did not have an image of President Eisenhower as a boy.

    I don’t think a Washington, DC monument should, either.

  10. LauracomL,
    You are so right. History has proven all that DDE provided for us. I am a liberal Democrat now, having been raised by Eisenhower Republlicans. I was soundly driven from the Republican party during the 60’s, when the radical Democrats in the South, took over the mantel of the Republican party which they now totally control.

  11. I totally agree with the Eisenhower family. I remember when Pres. Eisenhower had his heart attack and recuperated here in Denver at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital, and when he and Mrs. Eisenhower would visit her mother Mrs. Dowd, in Denver. He was our hero, and the idea of seeing him as a “Huck Finn” type of character on The Mall is so distastful. The idea that this commission is trying to rush it, because of the age of Gehry and others is riduculous. A smoke screen to get what they want. I think there are enough things in our modern world that Pres. Eisenhower would be appalled about, such as our involvement in a ground war in South East Asia. Let him be portrayed as the giant he was, and how history has proven what a forsightful man he was. Many of us remember the days when the John Birch Society tried to portray him as a Communist sympathizer and tried to impeach his Supreme Court Appointee. Please do not allow him to be portrayed as a country bumkin. Karen Kellogg Fain, Aurora, Colorado

  12. I don’t get it.

    I was an Army Officer in the Central Highlands of Vietnam and, for me, Maya Ling accurately captures the poignancy of guys I knew whose names are registered there on the Wall.

    Lawrence Halprin was a genius. The spirit of humanity and inclusiveness shines through his work.. For FDR Halprin used this ability to recreate the President and his times. The placement of FDR and the signs of those times brings the man and his humanity back into this world and for a public longing for his wisdom and insight and advice.

    Gehry who is known for his leaky buildings, flamboyant billowing metal sheets, lack of any structural integrity or coherence and plywood shacks in Venice has created something for the Eisenhower Memorial which I just don’t get. The design for the Eisenhower Memorial stinks.

    I don’t get it.


    916 3374876

  13. I think it’s a stunningly beautiful monument to a great man whose accomplishments and contributions will be remembered for centuries. Please reconsider. It’s breathtaking.

  14. Susan,

    I wonder if you might explain the objections of the family to the central statement. I certainly think that the family should be given a voice. But as someone from a small town, who knows and treasures the gifts given by President Eisenhower to the world, it is incredibly moving to see the small boy looking at the man he would become. I think all small boys have looked at something larger — their father, their president, famous generals, towering skylines — and wondered what they might do with their lives. To me, and I’m not an artist, it’s a monument to dreams. Washington is full of stone memorials to big lives. There is no one who doesn’t understand what an impact that President Eisenhower made on the world. But I’m not moved by that. I am incredibly moved by the image of this boy. Because we are all that boy. And look what he did, for his family, for his country, for the world. I don’t ever post on these things or write, but I’m baffled and concerned that, because of issues with the designer, or because of a lack of requested input, etc., that this has become a battle between strong-willed people and that the central meaning of the memorial has been minimized and lost. Just as the Vietnam memorial is an incredibly powerful, moving statement on the cost of war and the sacrifice of brave soldiers, this seems a way to not only honor a life well lived but to honor the life force behind that life: The American Dream.

    Thank you for reading.

  15. Sadly, the Commission staff and Mr. Gehry don’t seem to understand their mission. Congress did not express the wish that the memorial be primarily about an avant garde art work that many citizens will struggle to comprehend. The mission is to express simple gratitude for a job well done by one of its important leaders. The editorials,letters,comments and responses from across the country clearly and strongly reinforce this unfortunate disconnect.

  16. Anne Eisenhower has been a respected designer for many years. Her excellent taste, intelligence about function and composition, and ability to communicate her ideas make her an excellent choice for this position. The Eisenhower family is united in its respect for each other. We as the public have always appreciated this quality in our former First Family. There is no backstage rivalry here. The family should have the Memorial it wishes.

  17. Well put, Ms Eisenhower. Americans need a memorial to Eisenhower that is comprehensible and beautiful, as all goodness always is. Gehry’s abstractions and iron curtains hung from eighty foot tall shafts will at best only bewilder and most assuredly repel.

  18. Susan Eisenhower and her family have a much better take on what Dwight Eisenhower would have wanted, and what he represented to the world, than Mr. Gehry’s wish to display what he personally envisions would best display his artistic talent, using Dwight Eisenhower as his muse. His tapestries have been done before. They are beautiful, Mr. Gehry. Yet nothing about them remind me of Dwight Eisenhower. Anything “restraining” like a wall of any sort in a memorial for this great man would be out of place..as he was on the go all the time. Of course an Eisenhower should be on this commission, and their input should be taken very seriously. A memorial should tell a story, not of the dream one hopes to accomplish, but the legacy if that is achieved.

  19. President Ike Eisenhower was my President when I was in the Korean War. His memory always fills me with gratitude for his unstinting service to our counrtry. He will always be loved by me and the American people for his constant desire to serve and protect the American people .
    His family knows this and his memory and Memorial belongs to the American people and the Memorial should reflect and support this love.
    I think his family should continue to design his memorial and objectively present Ike’s love for the American people and the memorial should reflect this. I hope to see it in my lifetime but it’s not about plastic statues and curtains.
    With respect, Henry Bolanos

  20. The American populace does not know about DDE and what he accomplished. This Issue has everything to do with politics and the migration from Ike’s Republicanism to the clowns now vying for the Republican nomination in Tampa

  21. In the illustration, the barefoot boy statue seems to have an appropriately scaled relationship to the stone sculptures. It is much as I envisioned it from Gehry’s statements and knowledge of his working methods and his sense of what works aesthetically and as story telling narrative. Does the family still object the the representation? Or, is just the materials, and/or the scultptor? The tapesty is even less prominent than I expected. Thanks.

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