WASHINGTON — A federal commission working to build a memorial honoring President Dwight D. Eisenhower near the National Mall is considering Wednesday whether to move forward with architect Frank Gehry's design after years of controversy over the project.
Earlier in September, Gehry's team presented a revised design for a proposed memorial park in response to objections from critics and Eisenhower's family who said the earlier design was too big and extravagant. The Eisenhower Memorial Commission is scheduled to meet Wednesday for the first time in more than a year to consider Gehry's changes or whether to move the 15-year-old project in a different direction.
In the revised design, Gehry's Los Angeles-based team eliminated two large, metal tapestries on the sides of the memorial park, along with some large columns. One long, stainless steel tapestry would remain as a backdrop, depicting the Kansas landscape of Ike's boyhood home. The park would also include statues of Eisenhower as president and World War II general and inscriptions from some famous speeches.
But in a letter to the commission this week, Eisenhower's family said the revised design still does not address their concerns. They said the project is at a "crossroads" and should pursue a simpler design without any tapestries or columns — or be completely redesigned.
"Our family is ready to help move this memorial to completion under conditions that can re-energize this effort," wrote the 34th president's granddaughters, Anne Eisenhower and Susan Eisenhower.
As an alternative, the Eisenhower commission will consider building only the "core of the Gehry design without any tapestries or columns," as suggested by the family and by California Rep. Darrell Issa, who has weighed in on the project. In that case, Gehry would likely withdraw from the project if his trademark tapestries are eliminated.
"Gehry Partners has indicated that it will not present or associate its name with a design that does not include the tapestry and column elements and will withdraw from the project," wrote Brig. Gen. Carl Reddel, the commission's director, in a letter Monday.
Dan Feil, the executive architect for the project, will present both alternatives to the commission, which includes Democratic and Republican lawmakers and presidential appointees.
The Eisenhower memorial would be Gehry's first major project in Washington. The famed architect's designs include the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, among others.
Project estimates have put the memorial's total cost at $142 million. The cost has become a primary concern, resulting in Congress' decision not to approve any additional funding until the design dispute is resolved, according to Issa, who is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
"All the project's stakeholders recognize the importance of creating an enduring memorial that honors President Eisenhower's legacy," he wrote to the commission last week, "but these controversies have clouded the decision-making process and prevented the project from moving forward."
Eisenhower Memorial Commission: http://eisenhowermemorial.gov
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