A bill that proposes starting from scratch on the nearly 14-year development of a monument to President Dwight D. Eisenhower would effectively end efforts for memorialization, the head of the memorial commission said Wednesday.
Conflicts over the size, concept and design of the planned memorial on the National Mall in Washington D.C. have plagued the project from almost from the start. At a Congressional hearing for the project in March, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, introduced legislation that called for a new design and the elimination of almost $100 million in funding for the memorial to the nation’s 34th president. Bishop is chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.
“We don’t have the key to his motivation,” said Brig. Gen. Carl Reddel, executive director of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, during a visit to Manhattan. He said Bishop never met with the commission and has not responded to requests to do so. Bishop and other commission members also toured the Eisenhower Library in Abilene Wednesday.
“We remain puzzled by it,” added Victoria Tigwell, deputy executive director of the commission. “We don’t know why he has taken this role.”
The design for the memorial, by architect Frank Gehry, attempts to combine the dual legacies of Eisenhower, a two-term president and the commander of Allied Forces during World War II. It also frames the site with metal “tapestries” of prairie landscapes, a nod to Eisenhower’s Kansas roots.
The hearing came almost a year after Gehry unveiled changes to the design of the memorial that attempted to address criticisms from members of the Eisenhower family. Still, Ike’s granddaughter Susan Eisenhower during the recent hearing called the design “flawed in concept and overreaching in scale.”
“The committee has been as inclusive as possible during this process,” Reddel said. In 13 of 16 meetings of the commission, at least one member of the Eisenhower family has been present.
He also defended the design saying in his testimony during the hearing that it “masterfully met the challenges of a complex urban site.”
Reddel and Tigwell said they’re still optimistic about the project as it stands and the progress that has been made so far.
Tigwell pointed out that in the history of presidential memorials, “none of them went smoothly.” Some wanted Washington depicted as as a Roman, she said, in keeping with the tradition of statues at the time. And many felt the design for the Lincoln Memorial was too grandiose for a man born in a log cabin.
“We take a little comfort in the fact that we’re not the first ones to ride this roller coaster,” she said.