Yesterday, amid growing controversy over Frank Gehry's design for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washingtom, D.C., Susan Eisenhower, the president's granddaughter, told members of Congress, "a redesign will be the only way to make the memorial acceptable to the American people." Joined by her sister Anne at the Congressional hearing, she also urged for a review of the management and policies of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, created by Congress in 1999 to plan the memorial.
Susan Eisenhower said she had been "inundated" with letters decrying Gehry's design, which features large metal screens and pillars framing a four-acre site by the National Mall, as suggestive of an iron curtain, internment camps, and missile silos. She also criticized its focus on the famed president and general's youth. A proposed statue depicts him as a young man. "One of the main flaws of the current proposal is that Eisenhower's contribution to this nation is not the main theme of the design," she said. "The Eisenhower our nation wants to celebrate is not a dreamy boy, but a real man."
Several people testified after Susan Eisenhower. Defending Gehry's design and the qualifications-based process used to select him were speakers for the National Park Service, the General Services Administration, and the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. Those opposed included representatives from the National Civic Art Society, the National Monuments Foundation, and Bruce Cole, a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Included in the testimony was a letter from Gehry, who according to an Associated Press report, wrote, "my only intent is to celebrate and honor this world hero and visionary leader," and indicated that he was open to further revisions of the design. Susan Eisenhower said a redesign would "not preclude talking to Mr. Gehry about being the person to do that."
A spokesman for the commission estimated that it would take two to three years and cost $16 million or more to go back to the drawing board.
At the start of the hearing, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) expressed concern that he and his fellow legislators did not have expertise in the arts, so shouldn't wade into a matter "well outside our purview." "Art is always controversial," he noted, a sentiment later echoed by Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.).
But later, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who chairs the subcommittee that held the hearing, observed that 8 out of 12 members of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission are, in fact, members of Congress. "I certainly hope Congress does have some expertise in this area," he said. "Otherwise, we're all screwed."
Gehry's design, projected to cost $112 million to build, awaits approval from the National Capital Planning Commission.