WASHINGTON — The future of a planned memorial honoring President Dwight D. Eisenhower was thrown into doubt Tuesday as lawmakers questioned the project's design and cost and Ike's family called again for the memorial project to be redesigned.
A House panel hosted a hearing on the 14-year-old project, which has secured a site for the memorial at the foot of Capitol Hill near the National Air and Space Museum. Planners could lose that space, though, without an extension soon from Congress.
For more than a year, the memorial's design by architect Frank Gehry has been criticized by some for its avant-garde approach to memorial architecture and praised by others for its innovative elements. Gehry proposed a memorial park for Eisenhower with statues of the former president and World War II hero — framed by large, metal tapestries depicting a Kansas landscape from Ike's boyhood home.
On Tuesday, Eisenhower's family threw its support behind new legislation in Congress that would scrap the design and block any more federal funding for the current concept. Already about $60 million has been allocated for the $142 million project.
Eisenhower's family has objected to Gehry's design, calling it "too extravagant" — in particular the metal tapestries held up by 80-foot-tall columns.
"Continuation of the status quo ... will doom the prospect of building a memorial," said Susan Eisenhower, the president's granddaughter. "It is time to go back to the drawing board, with an open process for the redesign of the memorial."
The family, she said, supports new legislation from Utah Rep. Rob Bishop that would block funding for the current design. Susan Eisenhower called for an open accounting of all the money spent so far and an outside review of the project's management.
Retired Brig. Gen. Carl Reddel, the executive director of the federal Eisenhower Memorial Commission, told lawmakers that Congress had a strong role in the project since it created the commission with four House and four Senate members, as well as four presidential appointees. He said they have worked hard to reflect Eisenhower's legacy as president and war general in the design.
"The historical record suggests that great, iconic architecture is always controversial," he said. There were disputes over memorializing George Washington with an obelisk and over the designs for memorials honoring Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, he told lawmakers.
Several lawmakers weighed in, though, and weren't satisfied there was enough progress in resolving differences over the design.
The memorial will likely never be completed in its current form, said California Republican Rep. Tom McClintock, "because it never will be funded in its current form." He said it would be out of place among the memorials to Lincoln, Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
New Jersey Democratic Rep. Rush Holt asked whether further changes could be made to the current design to satisfy critics and keep the project on track.
"The only thing worse than art designed by a committee is art designed by a congressional committee," Holt said.
Gehry has made some design changes, Reddel said. He would not commit, though, to rethinking the idea of including tapestries with the Kansas landscape.
Gehry has said leaving out the imagery from Kansas would omit an important part of Eisenhower's story because he was so proud to grow up in the heartland. But lawmakers said the proposed imagery would include mostly trees that aren't unique to Kansas.
None of the lawmakers who serve on the 12-member memorial commission attended the hearing Tuesday. Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, a World War II veteran who championed the memorial project and was the commission's vice chairman, died in December.
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