Controversial Ike Memorial Moves Forward Despite Opposition

Congress, Eisenhower family against design

Dwight Eisenhower
Dwight Eisenhower / AP

The National Capital Planning Commission is expected to give final approval to Frank Gehry’s design for theDwight D. Eisenhower Memorial on July 9, despite opposition in Congress and a major private fundraising shortfall.

The House and Senate appropriation committees eliminated the proposed memorial’s construction budget due to concerns about the design and objections from the Eisenhower family. However, supporters such as Bob Dole, the former Republican senator and presidential candidate, are relying on private fundraising to make the monument a reality for World War II veterans.

"I think we just go out and raise the money privately and not mess with the family and naysayers in Congress—we can’t wait much longer," Dole told the New York Times. "Start over? There won’t be any of us left."

Senator Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) is also optimistic about the memorial and said in an interview with Roll Call two weeks ago that "there’s also a great deal of emphasis on private funding that has some real good prospects."

But a 2014 investigation by the House Committee on Natural Resources revealed that the Eisenhower memorial commission has reached less than two percent of its fundraising goal since partnering with a private fundraising firm in 2010.

"The Commission’s current fundraising firm was expected to raise as much as $35 million in private funding, even though the Commission’s prior consultant said that goal was not feasible,"the report said. "To date, the Commission has received less than $500,000 in gifts and donations but has paid more than $1.4 million to these fundraising companies."

Justin Shubow, president of the National Civic Art Society, said the small amount of donations is a testament to Gehry’s design. "The disastrous fundraising is indicative of the public’s opposition to the project," he said.

The proposed design, which was approved by the United States Commission of Fine Arts on June 18, features massive 80-foot steel tapestries towering over a statue of the 34th president as a teenager. Critics, including members of Eisenhower’s family, have called the design disrespectful.

"Whether or not the current design is approved by the commissions has little relevance to the prospects of congressional funding,"Rep. Rob Bishop (R., Utah), the chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources, told the New York Times. "The Eisenhower Memorial Commission was repeatedly advised to halt work on the current design and to seek common ground with the Eisenhower family."

"This is not being built for the grandchildren," said Dole. "The voice that hasn’t been listened to is us guys for whom Ike was our hero, and we’d like to be around for the dedication."

Shubow argues that the monument shouldn’t be built with just one group in mind, but for all groups as a tribute to Eisenhower’s legacy.

"This memorial is for all generations,"Shubow said. "I have no doubts that veterans would want a monument that is good and isn’t rushed."