For more than a decade, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial counted members of the design community as well as living descendants of President Eisenhower as allies. In recent months, the parties have split over details in the design by Frank Gehry, FAIA. Now, the U.S. House of Representatives has entered the fray. A disagreement about the appropriate way to honor the two-term president and supreme commander of the Allied Forces during World War II may turn into the next culture war.
On Feb. 29, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) issued a letter to Rocco Siciliano, chairman of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission, noting “serious concerns with the current memorial design—including objections from Eisenhower family members.”
In his capacity as chairman of the House’s investigative arm, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Rep. Issa requested documentation from the Eisenhower Memorial Commission on a number of fronts. His letter asks for “a copy of all architectural designs concerning this memorial submitted to the Commission,” which includes the preferred bid by Gehry as well as the designs by others. Rep. Issa’s request also calls for “a detailed description of the process leading to acceptance of the Frank Gehry submission, including a breakdown of any and all votes taken pertaining to any submission.”
Further, Rep. Issa, who is an ex officio member of the National Capital Planning Commission, also issued a directive to the Eisenhower Memorial Commission: “I request that the Commission take all reasonable steps to preserve all documents related to the Gehry design.”
A spokesman for Committee on Oversight and Government Reform could not comment on future steps that Rep. Issa or the committee might take—or explain the specific concerns regarding the Gehry documents.
Rep. Issa isn’t the only representative who has taken an interest in the memorial.
On March 20, the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands will hold an oversight hearing on the Eisenhower Memorial. The debate over the design spurred the interest of the subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), according to a spokesman for the Natural Resources Committee.
Still other House Representatives have spoken up against the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), who is chairman of the Committee on House Administration, asked the National Capital Planning Commission to reconsider the design. So did Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.)
Congressional interest may not necessarily lead to congressional action. As a spokesperson for the Natural Resources Committee observed, a recent public outcry over the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial was resolved without any legislation. U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced in February that a misquotation that appears on the statue of King would be removed and the correct quote restored.
The committee spokesperson says that it’s certainly possible for the committee to legislate on the matter, but says that that sort of action is a long ways off.
Members from both sides of the aisle (and both chambers of Congress) serve on the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) serves as its vice-chairman. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa), Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), and Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) are also members.
Dissatisfaction registered by President Eisenhower’s family members prompted the House's recent interest in the memorial's design, as Rep. Issa’s letter and House staffers attest. However, the mood among President Eisenhower’s descendants changed only recently. As the Associated Press reports, David Eisenhower, who joined the commission in 2001 as the family’s sole representative, supported Gehry’s ideas throughout the design process. David Eisenhower resigned from the commission in December.
An organization called the National Civic Art Society, which operates eisenhowermemorial.net, has played no small part in galvanizing the opposition—whose position ARCHITECT editor-in-chief Ned Cramer has discussed at length. Washington City Paper reporter Lydia DePillis has rounded up other commentary on the Eisenhower design, both pro and con.
It may fall on Rep. Issa and others in the House to decide. For the time being, however, Rep. Issa has given the last word to French President Nicholas Sarkozy. The congressman’s letter quotes at length from a speech that Sarkozy gave in 2007.
“Fathers took their sons to see the vast cemeteries where, under thousands of white crosses so far from home, thousands of young American soldiers lay who had fallen not to defend their own freedom but the freedom of all others, not to defend their own families, their own homeland, but to defend humanity as a whole. … Before they landed, Eisenhower told them: ‘The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.’ ”