What a sad and unworthy place we have come to on the Eisenhower Memorial! Yesterday, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission convened a public meeting to discuss the proposed Eisenhower Memorial. But instead of talking about the substance and feasibility of building Frank Gehry’s design, the commissioners acted as if nothing has changed in this country since 1999 when they started the effort to build a national memorial to the five-star general and two-term president. The commissioners gave nary a nod to the sequester, which has cut public funding to many vital national programs. Nor did they properly assess and account for the likelihood of continuing and future fiscal constraints. Instead, Chairman Rocco Siciliano chose to focus on his frustrations with the Eisenhower family–specifically “the girls”– without properly acknowledging the overwhelming public opposition to the design.
In Washington we are used to political and public policy disappointments, but I have been continually astonished by the degree to which the commission has gotten away with baldly mischaracterizing my family’s position. The attacks directed at me specifically yesterday were a transparent attempt to sideline the views of our father – Ike’s son and executor of his will – John S.D. Eisenhower. Rather than acknowledging my father’s views on this design, as expressed in a letter last fall, Chairman Rocco Siciliano talked about “the girls” – as if my sister and I, the designated spokespersons for our father and siblings, were willful rogues. He also declared that the Eisenhower family had been involved over the years but had not spoken up until recently. This claim is counter to a decade of correspondence to the commission from various family members about our concerns with the process and the design. Lastly he repeated again that my brother, David, had voted for the Gehry design, when in fact David supported the concept of another architect.
The unanimous vote yesterday – defiantly rejecting my family’s appeal for consideration of fiscal realities (see below) – was a sorry show of group-think. The commissioners were appointed to serve the public and guide this effort, which has been funded at the taxpayers’ expense.
The Eisenhower family is united in its belief that the nation and Congress must get this memorial right. The current design will be seen clearly from Capitol Hill, it will reconfigure the traffic pattern in a congested part of Washington, and it will cost far more than current estimates, since the 80-foot metal scrims will have to be replaced over time and the National Park Service will have difficulty in keeping them clean and free of debris.
The scrims remain the central issue. In addition to durability concerns, they serve to undermine an important facet of the Eisenhower legacy: bipartisanship. Our family has pointed out they will create a metal barrier – a curtain – which will separate the Eisenhower Memorial from the Department of Education’s Lyndon Baines Johnson Building. President Eisenhower and then Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson worked together in a way not seen in decades.
Mr. Gehry told my sister and me last year that the metal scrims are a non-negotiable part of the memorial design – the element that makes this a Gehry.
Apparently this consideration has trumped all else.
It is impossible to predict if the Commission will ultimately succeed in getting the Gehry built. But if they do they will have succeeded through the promotion of half-truths, disinformation about Dwight Eisenhower’s family, and most importantly an apparent disregard for the interests of the American taxpayer in this resource-constrained era.
Below is the appeal my family submitted yesterday for the Commission’s consideration.
While the Eisenhower family was not in attendance for this meeting, this blog is based on several reports we’ve received. Chairman Simpson read the following letter on our behalf: