Eisenhower Family Unhappy With Gehry's Current Memorial Design

WASHINGTON -- Has the Dwight D. Eisenhower national memorial project hit a snag?

The Washington Post reported Friday that members of the Eisenhower family are not pleased with the modern design proposed by architect Frank Gehry slated for a plaza at the intersection of Independence and Maryland avenues SW.

Susan, one of Eisenhower's four grandchildren, has "serious concern about the design" and believes its avant-garde character wouldn't sit well with her grandfather. The 34th president, she said, "embraced traditional values."

According to the Post:

Most of the concerns stem from the planned 80-foot tapestries and large steel columns, 11 feet in diameter, that will frame the memorial's four-acre park. Made of woven steel, this metal curtain is the focal point. Many people assumed that these tapestries would showcase images of Eisenhower's life as general and president. Instead, they will show images of the Kansas landscape in winter, in keeping with the "barefoot boy" theme.

The "barefoot boy" theme is a reference to a quote by Eisenhower from 1945: "Because no man is really a man who has lost out of himself all of the boy, I want to speak first of the dreams of a barefoot boy."

In October, Gehry promised to meet with the Eisenhower family when they expressed an initial unhappiness with the design. Gehry told The Associated Press at the time that he and the commission were "clearly going to make them happy." Gehry did not comment to the Post about the family's more recent concerns.

In July, the Eisenhower memorial project caught flack from National Civic Art Society chairman Eric Wind, who said he was planning on submitting a Freedom of Information Act request seeking documents from the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. He believes that the competition to design the memorial, which Gehry won, was never truly competitive.

Unhappy with Gehry's design, Wind hosted an alternative competition to design the Eisenhower memorial. The winning counterproposal design by Daniel Cook is a more traditional one, featuring a large arch with the words "Peace Through Understanding" inscribed on it.

Building monuments -- from the first design proposals to the final moments of construction -- has long been a challenge in the nation's capital. The city has a rich history of rejected and altered projects, which is the focus of an exhibition at the National Building Museum called "Unbuilt Washington," now on display through March 28.

The Post caught up with the exhibition's curator, Martin Moeller, to speak on the Eisenhower family's concerns:

"This modernism versus traditionalism debate is a false dichotomy," said Moeller. "There are never just two options [in architecture.] With memorials, there are so many issues, not just the usual technical constraints. Memorials are weighted with symbolism and a lot of people feel a connection to them, so the designs always stir debate."

It's unclear how much weight will be given to the Eisenhower family's dissent. Eisenhower's eldest son, David, sits on the Eisenhower Memorial Commission and is representing the family's concerns.

However, that was the role of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's grandson David, who served on the FDR Memorial Commission. Even with his involvement, FDR's family issued a statement following the unveiling of the 32nd president's memorial in 1997 that expressed disappointment over the lack of a "family position" on the way FDR was portrayed.