Decision on Eisenhower Memorial delayed until 2013

WASHINGTON — Plans to build a national memorial honoring President Dwight D. Eisenhower will be delayed into next year as the World War II general’s family continues to object to a design by architect Frank Gehry.

A review of the memorial design was left off the December agenda Friday for the National Capital Planning Commission, which must approve the project. That means the commission won’t consider it until sometime in 2013.

According to letters obtained by The Associated Press, Eisenhower’s son, John S.D. Eisenhower, and his family continue to say the design is “too extravagant” and “attempts to do too much.”

Genry has proposed a memorial park with statues of the president and World War II hero framed by large metal tapestries depicting Eisenhower’s boyhood home in Kansas.

John Eisenhower, 90, who served as ambassador to Belgium in the Nixon administration, wrote in an Oct. 18 letter that the memorial tries to tell multiple stories, which should be left to museums.

“Taxpayers and donors alike will be better served with an Eisenhower Square that is a green open space with a simple statue in the middle, and quotations from his most important sayings,” Eisenhower wrote to Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, who is vice chairman of the federal Eisenhower Memorial Commission.

The commission has continued to push forward with Gehry’s design after some changes announced in May.

The family welcomed the changes but continued to oppose other features and the project’s estimated $142 million cost, especially with the nation’s sluggish economy. The 12-year-old effort would rely on private fundraising and money from Congress.

“We have priorities more urgent than building such an expensive memorial right now,” John Eisenhower wrote.

Inouye met with the former president’s granddaughters, Anne and Susan Eisenhower, over the summer and reported back to the memorial commission in early August. He noted the most contentious part of the design for the family was Gehry’s use of metal tapestry.

Inouye wrote to the commission that ignoring the family’s opposition could hurt the project.

“I would hate to stop the process and lose the momentum, especially since a lot of time, money, and effort has been expended on this memorial,” he wrote. “However, given the continued opposition with the Eisenhower family, I question whether we can ever resolve the differences … and whether it would be in our best interest to continue to move forward.”

Commission Chairman Rocco Siciliano, who served as a special assistant in the Eisenhower White House, responded days later, urging the commission to proceed as planned. He said the commission had made serious attempts to address the family’s concerns over the past year.

“It is obvious to me that we must proceed with Frank Gehry’s design,” he wrote. “We have not received a single substantive comment from the family. They have expressed only opposition.”

Siciliano said the commission must make a decision. Millions of dollars have already been spent on the project’s development.

“I am one person who feels competent to say that he believes President Eisenhower would be most pleased as to what the present commissioners have unanimously accepted,” Siciliano wrote.

The memorial group submitted extensive documentation on the design elements and materials to the National Capital Planning Commission this fall, which the federal panel has been reviewing. Chris Cimko, a spokeswoman for the memorial group, said they aim to have the project considered in January or soon after.

“We’re moving ahead,” she said. “We’re completely fine with however long it takes them. The most important thing is that everybody walks into the room very well prepared.”

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Eisenhower Memorial Commission: http://www.eisenhowermemorial.org/

Memorial Documentation: http://www.ncpc.gov/project/eisenhower

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Follow Brett Zongker on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DCArtBeat

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