Thursday, April 3, 2014
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal commission that oversees plans for monuments in the nation's capital voted Thursday to reject the current design for a memorial honoring President Dwight D. Eisenhower, sending the concept back to its architects for revisions.
The National Capital Planning Commission voted 7-3 to endorse its staff's report opposing the current design. The objections focus primarily on the scale and placement of columns that would hold large stainless steel tapestries framing a memorial park honoring Eisenhower.
One concern is preserving views of the nearby U.S. Capitol between the massive columns.
Architect Frank Gehry has designed large metal tapestries depicting the Kansas landscape of Ike's boyhood home held up by 80-foot-tall limestone columns. Statues of Eisenhower as president and World War II general would stand at the park's center. Gehry did not attend the meeting Thursday.
Eisenhower's family has opposed the design's large scale and the inclusion of metal tapestries. The 34th president's granddaughter Susan Eisenhower listened to the debate Thursday but did not testify. Other critics have opposed the project citing Gehry's style and a preference for more classical architecture.
L. Preston Bryant Jr., the planning commission's chairman, voted to oppose the current design but also voted to bring the project back every two months with updates on its progress.
"There is widespread agreement on the need for an Eisenhower Memorial," he said.
The commission's vote Thursday was its first formal action on Gehry's design and is the first major rejection that could force changes in the design. Gehry's concept has won support at the separate U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, which also must approve the design.
Now the design is caught between the two federal agencies, said Daniel Feil, the Eisenhower project's executive architect.
"There's no Supreme Court" to deliver a final decision on the design, he said. Now the architects must decide whether changes can be made to answer the commission's objections.
"The project is taking a bleak site and transforming it into a green space with a presidential memorial in it," he said.
Representatives of the National Park Service and the U.S. General Services Administration voiced support for Gehry's design for the memorial but were outvoted in the final tally.
Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, an ex-officio member of the commission, made a rare appearance and suggested the Eisenhower Memorial group return every two months with updates to keep the project moving. Issa said that if it continues to be delayed, it will become difficult to get more money from Congress to fund the memorial.
"The time for endless debate has to be over," he said.
Republican Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois also made an unusual appearance before the commission to criticize the design. He said the imagery doesn't covey the "majesty" of Ike and called it "a four-acre theme park without a coherent theme."
None of the current Kansas lawmakers who have championed and overseen the project testified. But Howard Bauleke, the chief of staff for former Kansas Rep. Dennis Moore, who once sat on the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, said it was a good design that's been bogged down with political distractions.
"Frank Gehry's design is unique and memorable," Bauleke said.
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