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Eisenhower family does not like Ike's memorial plans

March 20, 2012|By Richard Simon
  • A rendering of the Eisenhower Memorial Pedestrian Experience. Family members have criticized the design, saying it puts too much emphasis on Eisenhower's rural Kansas roots and not enough on his achievements as a military hero and president.
A rendering of the Eisenhower Memorial Pedestrian Experience. Family… (Gehry Partner LLP )

Reporting from Washington — While they certainly like Ike, the Eisenhower family members do not like the design of the planned memorial to former President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Washington. 

Susan Eisenhower called Tuesday for a redesign of the memorial at a Capitol Hill hearing, saying she doubts her grandfather would have approved of the design by Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry.

"It’s time to go back to the drawing board,’’  she said.

The $112-million memorial, planned for an area just off the National Mall near the National Air and Space Museum, would feature a statue of a young Eisenhower looking at stone bas reliefs of the future Supreme Allied Commander of World War II and president.

The memorial park would be framed by 80-foot-tall columns supporting steel tapestries that depict the Kansas landscape where Eisenhower grew up. Plans call for the memorial to be completed by 2015.

"Instead of the focus on Eisenhower, the liberator, the commander who led the largest military operation in the history of warfare, and Eisenhower the president who championed freedom and prosperity,  the narrative relies on  a romantic Horatio Alger notion, a young Eisenhower viewing his future career," Susan Eisenhower told a House subcommittee. 

"The Eisenhower our nation wants to celebrate is not a dreamy boy but a real man who faced unthinkable choices, took personal responsibility and did his duty with modesty and humility,’’ she said.

The steel tapestries overpower the space, she said, adding that they remind her of billboards that "Granddad told us that he hated’’ and would obscure the Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education, an "affront to one of Eisenhower’s contemporaries."

Gehry did not attend the hearing, but sent a letter defending the sculpture of a young Eisenhower, saying it is intended to inspire children and "give them courage to pursue their dreams and to remind them that this great man started out just like them.’’

"My detractors say that I have missed the point, and that I am trying to diminish the stature of this great man,’’ Gehry wrote. "I assure you that my only intent is to celebrate and honor this world hero and visionary leader who did so much for our country and the world.’’

Gehry wrote that he was open to exploring other options.

It’s unclear what Congress will do, if anything, about the design. While final approval of the design rests with the National Capital Planning Commission, funding for the memorial's construction is subject to congressional appropriation, though any change in design could increase the cost.

Some lawmakers appeared uneasy about entering the controversy.

 "I’m not an art critic,’’ said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), adding that Congress "isn’t the appropriate place'' to settle a design dispute.

 Still, a number of other lawmakers have entered the fray, urging the National Capital Planning Commission to reject the current design.

 "Given the concerns shared by so many and unanswered questions that remain, it would be my hope that this project be placed on hold until further discussions can be had about the most appropriate and responsible path forward,”  said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the House subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands.

Chris Cimko, a spokeswoman for the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, said after the hearing: "We're confident that cooler heads ultimately will prevail and we'll be allowed to keep moving forward.''

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richard.simon@latimes.com

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