A proposed monument to the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower continues to be mired in controversy even after winning final approval from a key agency.
The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts gave the memorial the go-ahead Thursday, seemingly bringing the project, designed by famed architect Frank Gehry, one step closer to construction. The final approval from another agency that has already given an initial agreement, the National Capital Planning Commission, is expected July 9.
But Congress also stepped in this week, with the House Appropriations Committee stripping all funding in the next fiscal year for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission.
The corresponding Senate panel weighed in Thursday as well, voting to keep the commission at its current federal funding, $1 million for administrative costs, but nothing for construction.
The two legislative bodies will have to work out a compromise. But the House position signals significant opposition by lawmakers to the Gehry design and a desire to re-start the design selection process, already 14 years in the making.
A pivotal figure in the standoff is Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, the newly named chairman of the commission who represents the state that was Eisenhower’s boyhood home. He was born in Texas.
In a statement, Roberts was upbeat about the outlook for proceeding with the design.
“Today’s vote of final approval by the CFA helps to ensure a lasting and fitting tribute to President and General Dwight D. Eisenhower who, 71 years ago this month, made the D-Day decision that led us to Victory in Europe,” he said. “My grandkids today are too young to understand what Ike gave to them in the peace and freedom they enjoy. But with a permanent memorial, it’s my hope they will come to understand and appreciate what he meant to our country and to the entire free world.”
The tipping point for House committee members was the vocal opposition of the Eisenhower family, with granddaughters Susan and Anne Eisenhower lobbying lawmakers against continued funding. The family has publicly called for a redesign for several years, calling the Gehry vision too grandiose.
“It simply defies logic and decency to design and build a memorial to Dwight Eisenhower without obtaining the approval of the Eisenhower family,” said Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee that funds the commission.
Gehry, a Pritzker-winning architect known for the distinctive Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain, scaled back his design after critics objected to the giant metal tapestries that framed the core memorial. The design now has one tapestry instead of three that set off three sculptures that show Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander, Europe in World War II; as president; and in the center, as a young West Point cadet.
The modified design on the four-acre space on the National Mall removes two of the metal tapestries that have been the center of controversy, leaving one large tapestry along the length of the memorial and two stand-alone 80-foot columns.
The dispute troubles Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., a member of the Eisenhower Commission who is also on the House Appropriations Committee.
“It makes little sense to throw away $40 million in taxpayer dollars that have been used to come to this consensus over the design and start all over, spending an additional $20 million in the process,” he said in an interview.
“If we have to start over, there won’t be any World War II veterans left to witness the opening of the memorial to President Eisenhower.”