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Members of Congress Skip Confusing Eisenhower Memorial Meeting

Gehry, left, may not be party to the final design. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Gehry, left, may not be party to the final design. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Only one of the eight members of Congress who sit on the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission attended a Wednesday afternoon meeting on the design, the latest attempt to move forward the project now 15 years in the making.  

Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr., D-Ga., didn’t get to see the entire hour-long presentation, he told CQ Roll Call, because he had to leave for a House vote. Bishop didn’t miss much action: The fate of architect Frank Gehry’s design is undetermined, and a familiar chorus of critics are still calling for a restart.  

Executive Architect Daniel J. Feil briefed the body on Gehry’s modified design — a plan that the Eisenhower family opposes — and a second alternative that would not include Gehry’s name. The first option was unveiled during a Sept. 4 National Capital Planning Commission, but there is only a vague idea about what the second might look like.  

Without a quorum present, the commission could not take any public votes on how to proceed.  

“This looks like a federal commission sowing confusion and controversy,” said Sam Roche, who represents the group Right by Ike, an organization pushing to replace the Gehry design with a public competition. Right by Ike objects to the General Services Administration’s Design Excellence Program to select the memorial. The program, intended specifically for federal office buildings and courthouses, limited the options to established architects, instead of taking open submissions from the public. Roche describes memorial development as “strangely byzantine for a public process.”  

Between now and Sept. 24, commissioners will cast written votes on a motion to present both plans during NCPC’s Oct. 2 meeting on an informational basis, rather than pursuing the current plan of seeking preliminary approval on the modified Gehry design.  

Bishop said he has no objections to sending both.  

“A lot of time and a lot of money has been invested in it, and it’s a shame to allow that kind of taxpayer investment to go down the drain and have to start over,” Bishop said. “I think that Mr. Gehry has made significant modifications and has responded to the concerns that have been raised.”  

It’s all a matter of art, the congressman said, and “art is in the eye of the beholder.”  

Brig. Gen. Carl W. Reddel, executive director of the EMC and an expert on Ike, said the American public doesn’t understand the 34th president and World War II hero’s legacy, so memorializing Eisenhower in a way that reflects that his “world class legacy” is a big deal.  

“This task has been diverted along the way by a lot of things that don’t live up to that legacy,” Reddel told CQ Roll Call after the meeting. For roughly 10 years, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission worked steadily forward on its task of selecting a site, an architect, a concept and a design with no controversy, according to Reddel.  

“This groundswell of criticism didn’t start until December 2011,” he said. At that point, Reddel paused to meet with family members, he testified during a congressional hearing convened in spring 2013 to hash out competing visions.  

Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of the president, attended Wednesday’s meeting but declined to make any public comments. The family has requested that the design process be restarted.  

“Despite the best efforts of this commission, everyone else is coming forward to stop it,” Roche said. He alleges Gehry’s design has “become too controversial to build.”  

The EMC is also considering a motion from Bruce Cole to pause until Nov. 1, limiting expenditures only to the essential daily operations of the commission. Under the proposal, EMC would present both designs to NCPC on an informational basis, but otherwise hold off on further design planning.  

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, offered a second to that motion, via email.  

“This time should be used to assess our options,” Cole said, according to prepared remarks that blasted the design, finances and delays. If moving forward without Gehry’s design, the EMC needs to consider who will actually develop and further refine this idea, Cole said. He also wants commissioners to “strongly consider” the idea of restarting the design competition.  

“After all, we’re deciding on a memorial that we hope will last for ages,” Cole concluded. “Let’s take just a little more time to get this right — for Ike’s sake.”  

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