Congress Keeps Gehry-Designed Memorial to Ike Alive, But Just Barely

By Barbara Hollingsworth | December 12, 2014 | 12:10 PM EST

 

Artist's rending of the Frank Gehry-designed Eisenhower Memorial. (Eisenhower Memorial Commission)

(CNSNews.com) – Fifteen years after Congress created a bipartisan presidential commission to erect a monument honoring the nation’s 34th president, ground-breaking for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial is still nowhere in sight and the project remains on life support.

“Congress is appropriating only $1 million for salaries and expenses [in 2015]. Zero of that is for construction funds. So this is the status quo for two years now, where Congress has essentially refused to give any money other than life support,” Justin Shubow, president of the non-profit National Civic Art Society, told CNSNews.com.

Shubow’s group is highly critical of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission, which has been dogged by controversy ever since it unveiled a modernistic design by award-winning, avant-garde architect Frank Gehry.

Nobody likes this design. Not even Gehry’s mother would have liked this design,” Shubow told CNSNews.com.

“I think Gehry was precisely the wrong person for the job,” he continued. “Gehry’s works are very self-referential or you know, forms of self-expression, and here he’s being asked to build in honor of somebody else, not himself, and I don’t think he was up to the task.”

Shubow pointed out that the famous architect’s design “does not have a single champion in Congress.”

The commission itself has four senators, four representatives and four presidential appointees. There are two senator vacancies because [Senators] Jack Reed (D-RI) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) both resigned, I think it was in October that they resigned. And to me, it’s because they’re jumping the sinking ship.

“I mean, think about it. Jerry Moran, senator from Kansas, removed himself from the memorial to Kansas’ most famous son. It’s bizarre.”

On October 16, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts gave preliminary approval to Gehry’s latest version of the memorial, which also got the green light from the National Capital Planning Commission earlier that month.

Construction on the $150 million memorial was supposed to begin next year on a four-acre plot near the U.S. Capitol. However, even though the commission has already spent $44 million of the $65 million originally allocated by Congress, it has no funds to actually start the work.

And the commission’s private fundraising efforts actually lost money.

Architect Frank Gehry's original design for a memorial honoring Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Eisenhower Memorial Commission)

“The design can’t command public support,” wrote commission member Bruce Cole, who replaced David Eisenhower, Ike’s grandson, after he resigned in 2011 in protest over Gehry’s design.

“Over $1 million have been spent on a private fundraising consultant, but fewer than $500,000 have been raised; fundraising efforts have netted a loss of approximately $700,000.”

“Originally, they were claiming that the memorial would be 80 percent publicly funded. And at this rate, if it’s going to get funded at all, it would have to be 100 percent," Shubow told CNSNews.com.

"So if you do the math, 20 percent of $150 million is $30 million that they supposedly were going to raise privately. And they have not even raised a dollar.

“By law, they need to have 100 percent construction funds in the bank to begin construction,” he explained.

“The idea behind that law is that you want to avoid the embarrassment of running out of funds when you have a half-built memorial. That’s actually what happened with the Washington Monument. If you look at it, the bottom one third of the monument is a different color than the top two-thirds. They ran out of money for something like 30 years.”

Frank Gehry's final design of Eisenhower Memorial. (Eisenhower Memorial Commission)

Gehry’s original design featured ten 80-foot tall columns supporting 500 feet of woven metal “tapestries” depicting the landscape in Kansas, where Eisenhower was born.

But Eisenhower’s family vehemently objected to the design on both practical and aesthetic grounds, disapprovingly referring to the metallic scrims as “an Iron Curtain to Ike.

Gehry twice made minor revisions, scaling the tapestries back to 447 feet. But they are still larger than the iconic Hollywood sign in Los Angeles.

Williams College art professor Michael J. Lewis called Gehry’s design “a theme park of billboards and fragmented colonnades” that “is scarcely a memorial, let alone a monument” to the supreme commander of the Allied Forces who liberated Europe from the Nazis during World War II.

“How do you kill a zombie?” Shubow asked. “It just keeps going and going even though it’s effectively dead. And the sad thing is, the Eisenhower Commission is acting in such a way as if they don’t want a memorial to be built because they’re sticking with the design to the bitter end.

“My hope is that the new Congress will finally put a stop to this design and call for a new competition to reboot the process,” Shubow told CNSNews.com.

A group of academics, historians and citizens calling themselves Right by Ike, which has been highly critical of the commission’s decision to limit the design competition to established architects like Gehry, agrees.

“The best path forward is for the Eisenhower Memorial Commission to conduct a new, public design competition that will restore the public’s trust in this process and set a precedent for future memorials,” the group stated.


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