A new bill in the House of Representatives would likely scuttle the controversial memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower opposed by the 34th president’s family.
The bill from the House Interior Appropriations subcommittee would cut all funding for the Eisenhower memorial due to objections about design and funding from the Memorial Commission. The bill, which was passed with bipartisan support by the subcommittee, zeroed out the suggested $2 million allocated to the commission.
"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," says the report that accompanies the bill.
The Eisenhower commission’s first meeting and plans for the monument began in 1999. Ten years later, the Canadian post-modern architect Frank Gehry was chosen as the artist to create the design.
Gehry’s suggested design was a four-acre park, with massive towers and tapestries looming over a small, lone statue of a teenage Eisenhower.
Gehry’s suggested design were disliked by members of the Eisenhower family. Only 44 artists entered the heavily regulated competition, a small number in comparison with the hundreds of applicants for other national memorials.
Eisenhower’s grandson, the only family member on the memorial commission, resigned from the project in 2011.
"Legitimate issues raised by the Eisenhower family over the size, scope, and values reflected in the memorial’s design have been routinely disregarded even as the Commission has continued to aggressively pursue required project approvals. Accordingly, the Committee believes a ‘reset’ is necessary in order for the project to continue."
Some art critics praised the call for a reset.
"A classical design is what people think of when they think of monuments in D.C., not post-modern steel screens and towers," said Justin Shubow, the president of the National Civic Art Society.
The society released a report in 2012 criticizing Gehry’s design and showcasing the Eisenhower commission’s failed objectives.
The subcommittee also mentioned the lack of funding to complete the proposed design. The commission paid consultants $7 million from their salary account and $16 million to Gehry and his design firm from allocated construction funds.
It also pointed to the poor return on investment from these lavish contracts.
"In spite of paying a fundraising consultant $1,400,000 over the last four years, the Commission has raised less than $450,000 to date (including $300,000 from a single donor). This leaves the Commission well behind its fundraising goal to complete the memorial," the report says.
The committee also issued a legislative request for a new design competition and called for a new staff to operate the memorial commission.
"The Committee strongly urges the authorizers of jurisdiction in the House and Senate to work expeditiously on legislation to authorize an open, public, and transparent new design process," the report says.
Shubow said this could finally bring the controversial monument to an end.
"The message couldn’t be any clearer," Shubow said. "The Eisenhower commission is running into a bunker, and the appropriations committee is coming with a flamethrower."