A controversial memorial to President Dwight D. Eisenhower got the final stamp of approval from a federal agency Thursday, setting the stage for what supporters hope will be a fitting monument to the nation’s 34th president.
The National Capital Planning Commission voted 9-1 in favor of the re-tooled design by famed architect Frank Gehry, with only one loud dissent from Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who serves on the panel.
Last month, another approving agency, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, also signed off on the plans by the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission for the design to be built on the National Mall.
Former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., was a surprise commentator during public comments made during the planning commission’s consideration of the memorial. Dole’s counsel, Marion Watkins, read a statement from the former Senate majority leader and Republican presidential nominee, who is also a World War II veteran. Eisenhower was born in Texas but moved to Abilene, Kan., as an infant and is considered a “son of Kansas.”
There are only about a million of us left who served in World War II . . . a million aging American heroes who revere Ike and want to honor him before we are all gone.
Former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan.
“During World War II, I proudly served my country in the 10th Mountain Division, under Ike’s leadership,” said Dole, 91, who was wounded in Italy in 1945 and took 39 months to recover.
“Ike was our hero,” he continued. “It’s now 70 years later. I want the country I fought for to honor Ike now. It’s past time that Ike be memorialized and that the Eisenhower Memorial be approved.”
Dole’s imprimatur is a boost to the memorial’s chances, especially since he was a very high-profile supporter of the National World War II Memorial, which opened on the National Mall in 2004.
For Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the recently named chairman of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, Thursday’s vote was a landmark moment in the 15-year effort to build a memorial to Eisenhower.
“This is an important day for those of us who are committed to memorializing Dwight D. Eisenhower – a brilliant military strategist, a visionary world leader, a man who saved Western democracy, and a proud Kansan,” said Roberts. “The approval granted today is the last of the federal reviews required before construction can begin.”
Roberts wants Eisenhower to be honored alongside the other presidents on the National Mall: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“Eisenhower deserves that very rare place in our history that only this memorial can ensure,” he said.
But the nature of the memorial has been controversial.
Gehry, a Pritzker-winning architect known for his modern designs, modified his blueprint after the planning commission last year voted against his vision. The centerpiece featured three large woven metal screens, or tapestries, of a Kansas landscape as a frame to a memorial core of scenes from Eisenhower’s life as the supreme allied commander in Europe during World War II and as president.
Gehry removed two of the tapestries, leaving two 80-foot standalone columns. The Eisenhower family weighed in several years ago and said the design was too grandiose and that a competition should be held again.
Several members of Congress, including Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, are opposed to the memorial design. A House committee has cut all funds to the memorial commission, and both chambers have cut construction funding.
“Congress is deeply concerned about opposition from the Eisenhower family and the public,” said critic Justin Shubow, president of the National Civic Art Society. “What this or that federal agency says doesn’t matter.”