Momentum builds for Eisenhower Memorial

Momentum builds for Eisenhower Memorial
© courtesy of Gehry Partners, LLP, 2015

Political and civic leaders are ready to move forward on a memorial for President Dwight Eisenhower that's been in the works for 16 years with or without the support of his family.

The family of the nation’s 34th president have mostly disapproved of architect Frank Gehry’s design for the memorial, and at one point tried to stop the project from moving forward altogether.

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Backers of the project, which is planned for a four-acre park across from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, say changes have been made to win their support — and that the project will not be put on hold.

“With no disrespect to them, the memorial is bigger than the family,” said Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsThis week: Trump, Dems set to meet amid funding fight This week: Lawmakers return to mourn George H.W. Bush Evangelical leader: Not worth risking ties with Saudi Arabia over missing journalist MORE (R), the chairman of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, who represents the former president's home state of Kansas.

The memorial, which is expected to cost between $140 million and $150 million, will include two bronze statues of Eisenhower — one of him as the President in a civilian suit with three aides beside him, the other as the Supreme Allied Commander during WWII speaking to a military troop ­– and a transparent stain glass tapestry depicting the plains of Kansas.

The design, which the National Capital Planning Commission and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts approved in July, is the fourth iteration.

Roberts said changes have been made in attempts to make the Eisenhower family happy.

“We’re very open to the family,” he said. “I’ve met with them for goodness gracious I don’t know how many hours."

“(Former Senator) Bob Dole (R-Kan.), who is now the national fundraiser, stressed the point that we should honor the family’s wishes, but after so long a time you have to decide if you move or not,” Roberts said.

In an October 2012 letter to Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who was a leader on the project before his death later that year, Eisenhower’s son, John S. D. Eisenhower called the design “too extravagant,” even though he had served on the commission for a decade while the design was being drafted, according to a report in The Washington Post.

Susan Eisenhower, the president’s granddaughter, declined to comment when contacted last week.

“My family and I have decided not to make any public comments on the memorial,” she said in an email to The Hill.  

The consensus among those behind the project is it’s time to get started.

The commission has asked Congress to appropriate $68.2 million for construction in the 2016 budget. The goal, said commission spokeswoman Chris Kelley Cimko is to raise the rest through private donations. 

There’s a little over $19 million in the bank now, $1.5 to $2 million of which has come from donations. The rest is the federal funding left from past years.

“We’ve had costs associated with design and testing,” Cimko said. 

If Congress approves a request to construct the memorial in a series of three phases, she said only $24 million is needed to break ground and complete the first phase, which involves moving underground utilities to the edge of the property.

In July, Taiwan pledged to donate $1 million to the memorial to recognize the Eisenhower’s staunch support for its security in World War II.

The commission's recent additions to its advisory committee are also expected to draw more donations.

In July, TV journalist Tom Brokaw joined the advisory committee and last week both Bush presidents – George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush – joined two days before actor Tom Hanks.

The Oscar-winning actor known for “Saving Private Ryan” was a voice in getting the World War II memorial constructed in Washington.

If the funds are raised, the memorial could become the city’s 118th memorial on National Park Service property.

Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the agency, said the last memorial dedicated in the city under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service was the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial on Washington Avenue, which was dedicated on October 5, 2014. 

“Funding for federal memorials in the district has traditionally come from private donations, dating back to the Washington National Monument Society's fundraising campaign for the Washington Monument, which started in 1848,” he said. “Though not unheard of, the federal government usually does not provide financing for memorials, although exceptions have been made and federal appropriations have helped the fundraising process along for certain memorials, such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.”

For MLK, Litterst said Congress appropriated $10 million for the memorial that cost between $110 and $120 million to build.