New design for Eisenhower Memorial gets Rep. Issa's backing

Thursday , September 04, 2014 - 9:50 PM

Lonnae O'Neal Parker
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Significant changes to the design of the Eisenhower Memorial — including the elimination of two large metal tapestries that had proved controversial — were unveiled Thursday during a National Capital Planning Commission meeting.

The revisions were in response to concerns the commission raised in April about the scale, cohesion and sightlines of the original design of the memorial, along Maryland and Independence avenues SW in Washington. The changes to the design — by architect Frank Gehry — potentially mark a shift in the years-long debate about the $140 million project.

“With the changes to the design as it is, I’m prepared to support it,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., a planning commission member who chairs the House Oversight Committee.

Issa had expressed reservations about the design and had voiced concerns about design objections from the Eisenhower family. On Thursday, however, Issa said: “At the end of the day, sometimes to please everyone individually, you please no one cumulatively.”

Congress hasn’t authorized a memorial to the 34th president and World War II general in 15 years.

“We can’t go back to square one,” said Issa, who dismissed calls by detractors to scrap the Gehry design and restart the process.

Critics of Gehry’s design gained momentum in the past few years and Congress zeroed out construction funding. Last month, a congressional report — which contended that the Eisenhower Memorial Commission had spent or obligated $41 million — called the project “a five-star folly.”

Issa — who said he met with Gehry in California over the Labor Day weekend — noted objections to the memorial’s design but said that the commission can’t provide “another opportunity for it not to be perfect for someone.”

The design won concept approval from the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts in July 2013, and it must also get National Capital Planning Commission approval before construction can begin. Issa called for construction to begin as soon as next year, even if that means a congressional reauthorization so that the project can move forward in stages, despite the lack of fundraising progress.

Justin Shubow, president of the National Civic Art Society and a critic of the project, said that there is a contradiction in Issa’s position and that of other commissioners who called Thursday’s revisions “forward progress.” According to the revisions, one main tapestry and two tapestry-supporting columns would remain.

“It’s just a way of saying, ‘Okay, it’s better to have the tapestries out,‘ “ Shubow said about the revisions. “That doesn’t mean the design isn’t still terrible.”

“I think Eisenhower would have rejoiced at the political pragmatism that was introduced,” said Carl Redell, executive director of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. “I believe the level of discussion has been raised.”

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