It seems there’s still no peace between the family of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, which is authorized to oversee his Washington memorial. In the controversy’s latest round, sources say, the National Capital Planning Commission decided not to consider the proposed memorial design at its October 4 meeting. There have been similar delays in the past, as a dispute rolls along between the family, the commission, and architect Frank Gehry.
The delay in considering the proposal is considered a win by supporters of the Eisenhower family, who object to several elements of the Gehry design, in particular a set of hanging metal screens. Sam Roche, a spokesman for a group called Right By Ike, which reflects the Eisenhower family point of view, issued the following statement: “This decision is a blow to the Eisenhower Memorial Commission’s effort to force through its controversial design and highlights just how experimental the proposed 80-foot-tall hanging metal screens are. Clearly the NCPC is taking its responsibility seriously.”
In July, Carl W. Reddel, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission’s executive director, sent a five-page letter to Preston L. Bryant, chairman of the Planning Commission, updating what he called “continuing efforts to address the concerns (expressed by the Eisenhower family).” The letter, which was made available to The Washingtonian by a public relations firm, outlines what Reddel called “the family’s historical involvement in the activities of the commission.” His main point was that from 2001 to 2011, before the family balked and before David Eisenhower resigned from the Memorial Commission, the project moved ahead because the Eisenhowers appeared to be on board. He refers to their “support and participation.”
That support went away after a May 2011 meeting in which Gehry showed the full design to David Eisenhower and his sister, Anne. The family members eventually went public with their objection to certain elements, and a back and forth began between the NCPC, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, and the Eisenhower family. The dispute extended up to Capitol Hill, with both sides pulling in allies. In his letter, Reddel cites instances of ultimately unsuccessful meetings between Gehry and Anne and Susan Eisenhower. According to the letter, a meeting on June 21 of this year was requested by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who directed it. Reddel says the meeting was “described as a pragmatic work session to determine changes to the memorial design, which would make it amenable to the Eisenhower family.”
In concluding the July letter, Reddel said the meeting did not result in family support for Gehry, that the Eisenhowers were still concerned about various design features, and that “they do not feel it is their position to offer substantive design suggestions.” Given that impasse, he said the commission planned to move on with the review and approval process and to request “preliminary approval” at the October 4 meeting, which is off the table for now. A commission spokeswoman said the EMC is “perfectly fine” with the delay. “We’ve given them a lot of documents, some of them 300 pages in length. We fully understand the fact that they want a little more time.”
SIn response to our inquiry about the delay, the National Capital Planning Commission said a technical evaluation is underway and members are "committed to a complete and timely review" of the memorial design proposal.* We also contacted a member of the Eisenhower family, who would not comment on the record.
*This post has been updated from a previous version.