For the past year, the National Civic Art Society has led the fight against the proposed Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial designed by Frank Gehry. The proposed Memorial would be placed in Washington, DC between the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education Building, just south of the National Mall.
The proposed Memorial, which would cost American taxpayers over $120 million, depicts Eisenhower as a boy sitting a on a ledge surrounded by 80-foot-tall woven chain-link fences (incorrectly called “tapestries”) held between 80-foot-high pillars (incorrectly called “columns” and that are more akin to missile silos) over a four-acre plaza.
The design is opposed by all living members of the Eisenhower family, including President Eisenhower’s son, John S.D. Eisenhower, who is the sole heir of President Eisenhower and the executor of his estate. A number of prominent commentators have also come out against it, including: George Will, Richard Cohen, Ross Douthat, Bruce Cole, Stephen Walt, Leon Krier, Paul Gunther, Clem Labine, and Roger Scruton. Representatives Darrell Issa, Dan Lungren, Aaron Schock, and Frank Wolf have written letters to the National Capital Planning Commission asking them to delay approval.
One might wonder why anyone should care about these details, but memorials matter. They reflect our nation's values and highest aspirations. President Eisenhower is a leader who exemplified the courage and many of the virtues that much of our country's leadership lacks today. And if American taxpayers are going to spend over $120 million to build him a memorial in our nation's capital, we should take the time necessary to make sure it is an appropriate and permanent memorial, as Congress called for in 1999 when they voted to build a memorial in his honor. And we aren't building this memorial just for ourselves, but for future Americans and visitors to the DC for centuries to come.
I also have serious concerns over the process that led to the selection of the designer, which was opaque, elitist, and undemocratic. This was in contrast to the selection of designs for numerous previous national memorials, which had open competitions seeking designs. For instance, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial design by an unknown designer at the time, Maya Lin, was selected out of over 1,400 designs through a proven competition process. This memorial competition used the GSA Design Excellence Program, which was meant to be used for federal buildings and only solicited 44 architects to submit their credentials, whittling those down to only 7 that submitted any sort of design concept.
If the proposed design is constructed, it would fail to memorialize President Eisenhower in any coherent way and it would fail the American taxpayers who would be left with a costly and meaningless memorial that would be more of an eyesore than anything else. President Eisenhower and the American people, whether those living today or those born centuries from now, deserve far better.