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No to Mussolini Moderne

September 21, 2000

When it meets today, the National Capital Planning Commission should withhold its final approval for the disastrous plan for a World War II memorial in Washington's National Mall. The honorable intent behind the tribute to the men and women of that war notwithstanding, its location would chop up the great stretch of lawn in front of the Lincoln Memorial and destroy the historic place where for decades Americans have gathered in national reflection and peaceful protest. It's a good idea so badly executed that it must be stopped.

The football-field-size project before the commission today is so overwrought that it mocks rather than honors war veterans. Amid 56 commemorative pillars, two triumphal arches, a gold-star memorial wall, two waterfalls, four pools, eight monumental bronze eagles, 58 bronze wreaths and 24 bas-relief panels, where would visitors find the visual or emotional space to contemplate the sacrifices of those flesh-and-blood military men and women who suffered through four grinding years to finally vanquish tyranny?

And wedging this Mussolini moderne design between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument would destroy the look and historical sense of a nationally treasured place. Visitors would no longer be able to walk directly through open space because the way would be blocked by the memorial's four-story arches, 17-foot-high pillars and waterfalls.

Arguably the most offensive characteristic of the years-long effort to ram through this project has been the way the public has been kept in the dark. The memorial was originally sited at the side of the Mall near memorials to the Vietnam and Korean wars. But, quietly, in 1995, the Commission of Fine Arts--one of the groups required to approve changes to the Mall--moved the project to between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument with virtually no public comment.

The next move for this project should be back to the drawing board. Seven years ago, Congress authorized construction of a World War II memorial pending approval from the Commission of Fine Arts--which has given its nod--the National Capital Planning Commission and the secretary of the Interior. But the project now must be rethought, as urged by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and many veterans and civil rights leaders, among others. And if the capital planning commission can't muster the courage to say no today, then Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt should.

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To Take Action: Contact Harvey B. Gantt, chairman of the National Capital Planning Commission, at (202) 482-7200 or by e-mail at info@ncpc.gov. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt can be reached by calling (202) 208-7351 or by e-mail at Bruce_Babbitt@ios.doi.gov.

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