News & Politics

Everyone Still Hates the Planned Eisenhower Memorial

And now Congress is proposing to take away all its money.

The design for the Eisenhower Memorial, as of September 2014. Photograph courtesy of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission.

The proposed memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower is closer than ever to not happening at all with a House Appropriations subcommittee producing a bill that would zap the long-troubled project of all federal funding. The Interior Appropriations bill for the 2016 fiscal year recommends not committing any money to the Eisenhower Memorial Commission and also calls for the eventual replacement of the commission’s staff.

“The Committee strongly supports the construction of a permanent memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower,” the bill reads. “However, the Commission’s ongoing indifference to the views of the Eisenhower family, and the resulting lack of consensus on the memorial design, remain an area of significant concern. It is inconceivable and unacceptable to the Committee that a memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower could be designed, approved, and built without the active support of the Eisenhower family.”

Members of Eisenhower’s family, and other stakeholders, have long been opposed to the design submitted by architect Frank Gehry, who was picked in 2009 after a competition that drew only 43 other entrants. Gehry’s proposal stands out from Washington’s collection of mostly American Renaissance memorials. Instead of grand columns, the Eisenhower Memorial, as conceived, would feature massive steel tapestries depicting various stages of the 34th President’s life. Even watered down—the tapestries were switched from Eisenhower’s military exploits to his boyhood in Kansas—Gehry’s design still fails to stop the critics.

And while the Eisenhower family gripes about the tapestries and bas-relief sculptures, other elements of Gehry’s design have sparked outrage. In May, longtime DC architect Arthur Cotton Moore sent an 11-page missive to the city’s historic preservation office—one of many agencies with some jursidiction over the Eisenhower project—claiming that approving Gehry’s design would be the “death knell” of the original city plan laid out by Pierre L’Enfant. The proposed memorial, located between the Education Department and the National Air and Space Museum, would turn a one-block stretch of Maryland Ave., Southwest, into a pedestrian mall bisecting the Eisenhower tributes, potentially upset a 224-year-old bit of symmetry.

The Eisenhower Memorial, Moore claimed, could destroy “the most iconic section of the L’Enfant Plan: the matched boulevards of Pennsylvania Avenue and Maryland Avenue, jointly and proudly radiating from our Capitol.” That stretch of Maryland Ave., though, gets very little through-traffic and is used mostly for short-term parking.

The Eisenhower Memorial Commission has spent more than $40 million in federal funds since it launched in 1999, $16 million of which has gone to Gehry Partners. Gehry’s design would cost an estimated $142 million to build, but the commission’s charitiable donations have almost dried up completely, the House subcommittee notes. While the commission has paid a fundraising consultant $1.4 million over the past four years, it has only taken in $450,000, including a single donation of $300,000.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.