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Statue Moves Ahead

Memorial to Honor Communism Victims

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation has hit some snags in its effort to secure a site for its memorial, but the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6C planning and zoning committee meeting last week had foundation Chairman Lee Edwards doing his “imitation of Fred Astaire, dancing on the ceiling.”

In an unanimous vote, the committee approved the foundation’s new preferred site for the memorial at Massachusetts and New Jersey avenues Northwest. The approval “is a real breakthrough,” as the original preferred site at Constitution and Maryland avenues Northeast recently was rejected by ANC 6C commissioners and neighborhood residents.

Breakthrough or not, the process to make the VOC memorial a reality is far from over, and the possibility of hitting more snags looms in the distance.

Going Through the Motions

The foundation, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, will now go before the entire ANC 6C tonight and seek its full approval

of the newly proposed site. The go-ahead from the commission, which covers the Capitol Hill area around Union Station, should be in the bag, as many of the members sit on the planning and zoning committee and already have said yes.

The site is near the Georgetown University Law Center (600 New Jersey Ave. NW) and the National Guard Memorial Museum (1 Massachusetts Ave. NW), which Edwards named as two “important connections” for the VOC memorial. Also, with Union Station and Metrorail about two blocks away, the site is easily accessible.

“There are no residences, we’re not imposing on anybody,” Edwards said, in reference to the Northeast neighborhood’s refusal of the initial preferred site. “There is a clear sightline from the location to the U.S. Capitol — that is something we’ve always wanted to have.”

Obtaining the support of ANC 6C and the neighborhood is important to the foundation, as Edwards said “the people have spoken” and he doesn’t want the memorial to be where people do not want it.

On March 15, the foundation will appear before the National Capital Memorial Commission, which includes representatives from the National Park Service, mayor’s office, Defense Department, Commission of Fine Arts, Architect of the Capitol, American Battle Monuments Commission, General Services Administration and National Capital Planning Commission. Once the site has gone through the process and receives the commission’s consent, the foundation can move on to getting the design concept approved.

“It’s not unusual for a site to not get approved,” said Mary Kay Lanzillotta, partner at the Washington, D.C.-based architectural firm Hartman-Cox, which is working on the VOC memorial. “There’s always a site selection process that evaluates advantages and disadvantages.”

The Memorials and Museums Master Plan, released in December 2000, identifies 100 potential sites for future memorials and museums in the Washington area. NPS initially gave the foundation a list of a dozen sites, which Edwards said the foundation narrowed down to six.

“We prefer the ones on Capitol Hill,” Edwards said. “We want something close to Congress, it was they who are responsible for our existence, allowing us to move along with the memorial.”

Once the site is secured, Edwards said the design approval can be “tricky.” The artist will be brought into town for this stage in the process and will talk to the CFA about the design concept.

Sculpting the Plan

Although the memorial’s design concept is not yet finalized, one thing is for sure: San Francisco-based sculptor Thomas Marsh will be creating the memorial, and he will be doing it at cost.

“He’s waiving his fee, for which we’re very grateful because we’re talking six figures there, easily,” Edwards said. “It’s quite a contribution.”

Back in 1989, Marsh said he was “moved and intrigued” by the student movement for freedom and democracy in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. Art students from the Central Academy of Art in Beijing erected a statue symbolizing democracy that was unveiled on May 30, 1989. Days later, on June 4, the destruction of the statue as it was run over by a government tank was broadcast around the world as Marsh and many others watched in awe.

“My initial thought was, ‘I’m capable of rebuilding this,’” Marsh said. “Any capable sculptor with photographs could rebuild the statue, and that’s what I set about to do in San Francisco.”

With help from a number of foundations, Marsh created the 10-foot-tall bronze replica of what is generally referred to as the “Goddess of Democracy,” although he prefers to simply call it the “Democracy Statue.”

The replica was unveiled in San Francisco’s Chinatown with California Democrats Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Barbara Boxer in attendance on June 4, 1994, exactly 5 years after the massacre.

Since 1991, the National Endowment for Democracy has used a small, 15-inch-tall replica of the statue, provided by Marsh, for its annual Democracy Award. And, as chance would have it, a random conversation between a VOC member and NED President Carl Gershman is how Marsh became the sculptor for the VOC memorial.

Marsh said the VOC memorial will be similar to the one in San Francisco, but he is redesigning a few elements. The memorial will be a bit larger and he wants to make the face look more like the original, as he now has more photographs than before.

Currently, Edwards said the proposed text for the base of the statue is, “Dedicated to the more than 100 million victims of communism and to those who love liberty.”

One glaring difference between the replica in San Francisco and the original is the color. The original statue was painted white, but Marsh said those in California thought the bronze color was more aesthetically pleasing. However, the preference of the VOC foundation is to have the memorial white, which Marsh said is fine with him and “doable.”

Bringing It All Together

The foundation originally intended to build both a museum and a memorial, but Edwards said it was difficult to find the space and raise the funds for the idea, so the plan was scaled back to just the memorial.

“Once we reversed our priorities, the fundraising became doable,” Edwards said.

But even scaling back the initial plan requires a fair amount of time.

“From concept or just the idea, it has to go through legislation, and then formation of a foundation and the site analysis and selection and design process and construction — you’re looking at anywhere from seven to 10 years,” said Glen DeMarr, assistant to National Capital Memorial Commission Chairman John Parsons.

The VOC memorial is projected to cost roughly $600,000. Edwards said the foundation currently has half of that amount in the bank, thanks to contributions from personal donors, corporations and grants from foundations. And now, with the site most likely being approved, he said raising the rest of the money should not be an issue.

“The closer we get to site approval and design approval, fundraising is easier,” Edwards said. “We’re able to take people and say, ‘This is the site, please help us.’”

Lanzillotta said she thinks Edwards’ goal to have the memorial completed before the end of 2006 is still realistic.

“This has put us back on track and on schedule,” Edwards said of the selection of the site at Massachusetts and New Jersey avenues Northwest. “We think the site approval is pretty sure. … We hope to start construction in the fall.”

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