The Eisenhower Memorial: The Crucial Weeks

For more than a month, members of my family and I have been engaged in private meetings to see what common ground is left between us and the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. We deferred Frank Gehry’s invitation to meet with him again for two reasons. First, Mr. Gehry’s client is the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. Since they have the authority and the responsibility for the memorial, it is their obligation to present their proposal to the American people. Second, we strongly assert that a number of critical issues between the Eisenhower family and the Memorial Commission must to be ironed out if we are going to engage with them in any meaningful way.

This weekend the Washington Post will be running a highly visible article about the Eisenhower Memorial. This will be followed by a full Commission meeting on Tuesday, at which Gehry Partners will unveil Frank Gehry’s latest design changes. We hope that the Washington Post piece will be fair and accurate – but we are understandably concerned. Art critic Philip Kennicott has already made his endorsement of the memorial design well known. He also has been critical of the Eisenhower family’s position. (It is disappointing that the Washington Post continues to use a columnist for such reporting tasks.) With respect to the Gehry changes, we will review them early next week to determine whether or not our family can support the new memorial design.

Of greatest concern to us now is the need for an improved process—one that brings the voices of ordinary Americans to this continuing debate and makes the Eisenhower Memorial Commission staff more accountable and responsive to the public in this debate. Recently, an opposition group publically called into question the GSA architectural selection process.  According to a report by Politico: “The commission shot back, saying it’s ‘not going to dignify [their] attack.’” Chris Cimko, spokeswoman for the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, went on to say that this “impugns the integrity of the commission, which includes four senators, four members of the House of Representatives and four Americans appointed by the president of the United States, including David Eisenhower, who served as a commissioner for over a decade.”

All Americans have the right and the obligation to speak up on issues regarding the expenditure of public funds. We cannot support any attempt by the Commission staff to hide behind their distinguished Commissioners as a way to avoid answering public questions. I am sure these public figures had no idea their names were being used to silence legitimate concerns.

If Dwight David Eisenhower was a great man, it was not just because of what he did but because of how he did it. He would deplore those who have personalized this debate, rather than focusing their arguments on the merits of the Gehry design. And, he would have stopped in its tracks any high-handed effort to talk down to any American taxpayer who has a justifiable or reasonable viewpoint. Getting the process right, treating people with respect, and keeping one’s word are the hallmarks of leadership.  We should expect nothing less from those who have been selected to work in his name.

4 thoughts on “The Eisenhower Memorial: The Crucial Weeks

  1. The most recent iteration of the Eisenhower Memorial is far better than the previous version, especially in the depiction of General Eisenhower himself. The idea that General Eisenhower would be shown as a barefoot boy was deeply offensive to me as a native Kansan who grew up in a town 30 miles from Abilene and who marched around my neighborhood with an “I Like Ike” sign when I was 9 years old, during his first Presidential campaign.

    Eisenhower embodied “Kansas values” of honesty, common sense, pride, and pragmatism. He was a great leader in World War II. The previous memorial seemed to be based on some Rockwell-like fantasy conjured up by Gehry. I wonder if Mr. Gehry has ever bothered to visit Abilene or other parts of Kansas, to get a sense of the values that influenced Eisenhower.

    I am so pleased the Eisenhower family has been out-spoken and persistent in efforts to design an appropriate memorial. Perhaps the Eisenhower Memorial Commission should cut the ties with Gehry and find an architect who is more in touch with the subject matter.

  2. I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Gehry – remarkable and iconic talent that he is – may have been miscast for this particular role.

    Ike, like Truman, Pershing and Bradley, (and, in many respects, JC Penney, Walt Disney and Mark Twain for that matter) were men of the prairie and plains. How these men emerged from their heartland roots to become key players in the decisions that determined the course of a nation throughout the twentieth century – the American Century, as they say – is to me the story.

    If Mr. Gehry can capture that essence, then he will succeed.

  3. The latest Gehry design does not change the fundamental problem of the proposed Eisenhower monument: the iron curtain which encloses. Eisenhower stands for Democracy and Freedom won anew with the victory of WWII and heralded by an era of opportunity (education) and expansiveness. Walling off an “interior” monument space is antithetical to these ideals. An open space that gives a sense of being free rather than a circumscribed space is crucial. Wonderful statues, and quotations if warranted by the design , can be better incorporated into the site than on heavy plinths top-heavy with inscriptions. Vistas characterize the L’Enfant plan, not walls.

    The most difficult part of creation is giving up part of a design that is deep in the artist’s heart, but if it is not working in the unique place where it will be sited, it must be used somewhere else. Gehry is a creative architect He can revision this monument for this site. Hopefully, he is a great enough architect to take on this challenge.

  4. This reflects the state of flux of the whole art and architecture world these days. Our greatest artists, like the late Frederick Hart, are treated as equal in skill and status, with the less gifted. This could become a learning moment for the art community, but it remains to be seen. My family knew the last person to receive a Pulitzer for art. After Iris Guarducci’s award, more than two generations ago, it was felt there was too much disagreement over what art was. So the award was discontinued. Things seem not have changed much.

    The process is flawed, and as Leon Krier has graphically demonstrated, the problem begins with the grandiose scale of the site itself.

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