The National Capital Planning Commission gave final design approval, 9-1, Thursday to architect Frank Gehry’s plan for a memorial park to honor Dwight D. Eisenhower, over vocal objections of longtime design critics and concerns from some members of Congress — including House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, whose representative cast the lone "no" vote.
“I don't know that deferring action on this really gains anyone anything,” said Commissioner Beth White, a presidential appointee to the federal panel who has expressed concern about the scale of the project. Gehry's memorial park would cover a 4-acre site situated between the National Air and Space Museum and the Department of Education in Southwest D.C. "I hope I am wrong," White said, reiterating her worries before voting to approve the plan that includes a 447-foot long, 80-foot high metal tapestry depicting landscape scenes from Abilene, Kan., where Eisenhower grew up. The tapestry will be supported by a monumental colonnade, with two additional freestanding 80-foot columns, despite the former president’s granddaughters' public request for a simpler design .
Justin Shubow, president of the National Civic Arts Society, warned the gargantuan tapestry would look like a "drive-in movie screen" when illuminated at night. "This portion of the design belongs in Times Square or on Hollywood Boulevard — not ruining a vista to the Capitol Dome," Shubow said, reminding commissioners no rush was necessary on a memorial that is now 16 years in the making, particularly since Senate and House appropriators zeroed-out all construction funds in the bills they drafted for the next fiscal year.
But former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., submitted a statement to the NCPC urging the federal agency to hurry. The 91-year-old wants to break ground while he and his fellow World War II veterans are still alive to visit it.
"Let's get on with this. It's taken too long," said Mina Wright, an official from the General Services Administration, closing an eloquent speech about clashing views on Gehry's work. Wright noted a long history of memorial designs colliding with "art of our time."
Commissioners also voted 9-1 to approve the closing of Maryland Avenue Southwest, in order for the project to proceed.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission, noted "strenuous debate and serious discussion" throughout the design process, in a statement celebrating the last of the federal reviews required for the project. "We've balanced a wide variety of ideas and visions that have led to significant changes and improvements."
Roberts has said he hopes to get construction funds into an omnibus spending package. The EMC has reportedly struggled with private fundraising on the project, and will need significant help from Congress to put shovels to dirt.
"It's time to put aside the squabbling and attacks and move forward to give the American people, to Ike's remaining troops, and to the world, a great memorial to a great man," stated EMC vice chairman, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif.
Related: Frank Gehry’s Ike Memorial Plan Adds to Interior Spending Discord House Appropriators Call for ‘Reset’ on Eisenhower Memorial Plans Pat Roberts: ‘Nothing Less Than Full Victory’ on Ike Memorial For Eisenhower Memorial, It’s 16 Years and Counting Eisenhower Memorial Plan Still Faces Skepticism, Despite Approvals See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.