News & Politics

The Incredible Shrinking Eisenhower Memorial

A proposed “significant change” to the design would eliminate two controversial tapestries.

The plot of federal land where the Eisenhower Memorial is slated to be built. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

The seemingly endless pursuit to build a viable memorial to President Dwight D. Eisenhower near the Mall took a new turn on Thursday as Gehry Partners, whose controversial design has pleased no one with the power to approve it, proposed a “significant change” that, they hoped, would finally allow the project to go forward.

The new proposal eliminates two of the metal tapestries that would enclose part of the park-like arrangement, leaving only the large tapestry that spans the rear of the site.

“Since we were here in April, we’ve worked hard to meet the planning goals of the Commission as set forth in the last meeting,” Gehry architect Craig Webb told the gathered members of the National Capital Planning Commission. He said the architectural team has been “working with” the NCPC staff and presented to them “several different design ideas.” Only the one was presented at the meeting.

Other smaller changes include moving two supporting columns and modifications to the landscaping at the four-acre site on Independence Avenue in a wedge between the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Education Department, the FAA, and the William J. Cohen Federal Building.

Webb said this revision was intended not to take a “radical” direction” but “to move forward with this project to honor Eisenhower.”

That sentiment was seconded by commission member Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Relations, but with a further, “out-of-the-box” suggestion to build the memorial “sans the tapestries.”

“I would not want to lose the Gehry design as it is forever, but at the same time we have an obligation, after 15 years, to get this thing going,” Webb said, adding that this plan could also augment a “staged” fundraising effort.

Issa, who visited the memorial site before Thursday’s meeting, also observed that, at this point, “a toilet facility would be an improvement” of the “blighted” plot of land.

The presentation was informational only, and there was no vote by the NCPC members. That will come later after staff have analyzed the proposals.

Find Carol Ross Joynt on Twitter at @caroljoynt.