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Members of Congress speak out against Eisenhower memorial plan

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Photo - Eisenhower Memorial Pedestrian Experience.
Model image courtesy of Gehry Partners, LLP, 2012.
(‘The Elder Statesman’ photograph from an original print by Yousuf Karsh, 1966).
Eisenhower Memorial Pedestrian Experience. Model image courtesy of Gehry Partners, LLP, 2012. (‘The Elder Statesman’ photograph from an original print by Yousuf Karsh, 1966).
Local,Congress,DC,Eric P. Newcomer

Legislation that would derail celebrated architect Frank Gehry's design plans for the Eisenhower National Memorial received vocal support during a congressional hearing Tuesday.

Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of the World War II general and two-term president, spoke on behalf of the family, calling for a new design.

"We are very respectful that this is a memorial for the American people," Eisenhower said. "I think we might be in a very different position if the public hadn't been so very strongly against this design."

Gehry's plan features a statue of Eisenhower as a small boy surrounded by 80-foot-tall stainless steel tapestries, including one depicting a leafless tree. The memorial is estimated to cost $142 million. Several critics at Tuesday's hearing pointed to a report warning that the memorial might not stand the test of time and that falling ice and snow could prove hazardous to onlookers.

The American Institute of Architects continued to oppose legislation-- the subject of Tuesday's hearing -- proposed by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, that would scrap the current design.

"If Congress exerts the right to change the rules and reject designs in the middle of the game, these small firms will not take part in the federal procurement process. Congress would effectively be legislating small architectural businesses out of federal contracts, limiting competition in the process," said Robert Ivy, the institute's CEO.

The influential architectural group has not endorsed the Gehry design, however, instead focusing its defense on the approval process itself.

Several committee members voiced their opposition to the current design.

"I want to see the president that was the president when I was born, depicted in a way that the American people remember him. He was not a grand, sweeping, ostentatious individual," Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., said at Tuesday's hearing.

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., called the current design plan a "monstrous perversion of a great man."

Although the majority of witnesses and legislators present at the House Natural Resources Committee hearing indicated their opposition to the Gehry designs, some were more supportive.

"I wonder if there aren't some changes possible that can make it more suitable to everyone," asked Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J.

Eisenhower has said that she thinks that the Gehry design could not be saved and instead a new selection process should begin.

It's not uncommon for national memorials to face opposition. Even the Lincoln Memorial saw some opposition at the time.

Gehry is a world-renowned, award-winning architect. He designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, among other esteemed buildings.

"I love Frank Gehry's work," Lummis said Tuesday. "[T]his particular design is not it."

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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