The increasingly contentious debate over the fate of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial
returns to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, when voices from opposing sides will be heard
before a House subcommittee. The hearing comes one week after the subcommittee’s chairman,
Rob Bishop of Utah, introduced a bill that would put a hold on $100 million in federal funding
and take the whole process back to the beginning, before the proposed
Frank Gehry design was on the table, and before the controversy became immobilizing. The approval
process has been at a virtual standstill for more than six months.
Bishop’s bill attacks the design process, so far, and reaction to it from the design
and architecture side was pointed.
Rocco Siciliano, chairman of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission, which selected Gehry and
his design, called the legislation an insult. The CEO of the American Institute of
Robert Ivy, called it intimidation. In an interview with
The Washingtonian, Bishop said their words were “an overreaction by people who are invested in the
process.” The witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing include
Carl W. Reddel, the commission’s executive director, and
Susan Eisenhower, speaking on behalf of the family. The start-off witness is Congressman
Darrell Issa, who, as chairman of the oversight committee, has investigated the memorial design
ordeal. According to sources, Gehry was not, and did not need to be, invited to testify.
Bishop, in addition to the design controversies, wants to talk about money. The commission
estimated it would need $137 million for construction. Congress, so far, has given them $62 million,
according to a member of Bishop’s staff, who said $32 million has gone to construction
while “the rest of the pot went to fund other areas.” A separate $2 million was appropriated
for annual salaries. It’s the additional funding for construction that the bill freezes.
Members of the Eisenhower family were the first to voice opposition, early last year,
saying they felt the Gehry design was not appropriate for a man who, in addition to
being a former resident, was also World War II Supreme Allied Commander of Europe
and Chief of Staff of the army. Dwight Eisenhower’s grandson,
David Eisenhower, the only family member on the panel, resigned from the Eisenhower Memorial Commission,
and as a unified force the family—including David and Susan, their siblings Anne and
Mary, and their 89-year-old father, John S.D. Eisenhower—sent a letter of protest
to the National Capital Planning Commission. One year ago Susan Eisenhower testified
for the first time before Bishop’s subcommittee, and later some modifications were
made to the overall design, but the opposition and controversy did not abate.
Susan said, “The problem with this [Gehry] design is that it’s
like a theme park.”
Her family’s objection in particular, she said, was to the
large woven metal tapestries
they felt were not in keeping with Ike’s personal story or the
overall concept of
the design, which they wanted to be more open and more like a
park. “If you want to
define appropriateness, put him in a more traditional setting,
in a more modest and
sustainable way,” she said.
The bottom line is that the memorial is stalled and has yet to be considered by the
We talked with Congressman Bishop as he was about to board a plane from Utah to Washington.
Here is the conversation:
What do you hope to resolve at Tuesday’s hearing?
Three points: number one, the commission has to be reauthorized, regardless. The terms
have expired, and we have to reappoint some new people. Second, a clear accounting
of how the money has been used so far, and how they intend to raise and use money
in the future. Third, to see if we can relook at the design to arrive at some consensus.
Some have described your bill as designed to “kill” the present Gehry design. Is that
an accurate description?
No. That may be the ultimate decision, but I do want another set of eyes to look at
the design to see if something can be done to make it less divisive.
What would be the objectives of a reappointed commission?
You have to do something. It’s fair to relook at what we’re doing to come up with
the right product to honor Dwight Eisenhower.
How much time would you give a new commission?
I want them to do it right. I don’t care how long it takes.
If a new commission sticks with the current design, or proposes a new design, would
you support reinstating the more than $100 million in federal funding?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is it’s not my decision alone to make. It
is [the appropriations committee’s] decision to make.
When a new commission is formed, what should its makeup be? Is it important to have
a family member, or members, back on it?
It would be helpful but not necessary.
What difference has the Eisenhower family’s opposition made in the debate and your
decision to introduce legislation?
The family’s questions are appropriate, and they need to be considered. The questions
are not just involving the family itself. There are other people who have significant
questions. For example, how the process was used, how the money was spent, and what
the final product will be.
The chairman of the Memorial Commission called your bill an insult. The CEO of the
American Institute of Architects called it intimidation. What do you say to that?
[It’s] an overreaction by people who are invested in the process. The bottom line
is there has to be a bill to reauthorize the commission. Period. And right now the
entire issue of the memorial has been very divisive. So one way or another, it’s time
to let another set of eyes look at the situation and see what we’re doing. We may
end up with the same product, if that’s their decision.
There are still a lot of unanswered questions. This commission has run a unique pattern
in the way we do memorials. The funding has been unique—they have to tell us how they
have used the money so far—and the process of selection of the designer and design
has been unique. People care deeply about what the memorial will be because they care
so much about someone who did so much for our country. Those concerns have to be explored.
When we do that, historically, we have come up with better memorials.