Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., became chairman last month of the commission charged to build a presidential memorial to Dwight Eisenhower in Washington, D.C. That effort has stalled thanks to a costly, controversial design by architect Frank Gehry – which despite widespread objections, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission will not reconsider. Under Roberts’ leadership, the commission must find an alternative that is more unifying and less expensive.
Unlike its subject, the current design courts controversy. Critics say it belittles Eisenhower by depicting him as a child, and Gehry proposes gigantic metal screens that recall his own work rather than past presidential memorials. Objections have come from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, opinion-makers such as columnists George Will and David Brooks, and the Eisenhower family, which wrote to the commission that “we as a family cannot support the Eisenhower Memorial as it is currently designed – in concept, scope or scale” and asked that lawmakers refrain from building “such an expensive memorial” with public funds.
Congress, which has withheld construction funding since 2012, agrees the Gehry design is too expensive. Cost estimates approaching $150 million far exceed the memorial’s original budget of $55 million to $75 million, and the Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson memorials were all built for less than $50 million in today’s dollars. Nor has the commission found private support to offset such a high cost to taxpayers, having spent $1.4 million on fundraising efforts to secure only $500,000 in donations.
The Gehry design is too controversial to build – and a poor tribute to Ike’s legacy of consensus building and fiscal stewardship. To get his memorial built we must redesign it through a public competition that is open to everyone – standard practice for designing national memorials, which this commission abandoned. Under chairman Roberts, the commission should revisit that unwise decision. For the price of Gehry’s design, we can find and build a more fitting Eisenhower Memorial and fund planned renovations to the president’s library in Abilene.
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Sam Roche is the spokesman for Right by Ike: Project for a New Eisenhower Memorial, at rightbyike.org.