WASHINGTON -- Architect Frank Gehry said he is open to changes to a planned Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial to address concerns from the 34th president's family that the design doesn't put enough emphasis on his achievements.
Family members shared their concerns Tuesday at a House subcommittee hearing at which a letter from Gehry was introduced as testimony.
Gehry's design calls for a memorial park framed by large metal tapestries depicting Eisenhower's boyhood home in Kansas. Two large carved stones would depict Ike as president and as military hero, and a statue of a young Eisenhower would appear to marvel at what his life would become. The memorial would be built just off the National Mall, near the National Air and Space Museum.
The family objects to the tapestries and to depicting Eisenhower in his youth, saying it puts too much emphasis on his humble roots, rather than his accomplishments as Republican president from 1953 to 1961 and as supreme Allied commander in Europe during World War II.
Gehry said his design celebrates Eisenhower's accomplishments with heroic images and with his words carved in stone. "My detractors say that I have missed the point, and that I am trying to diminish the stature of this great man," he wrote. "I assure you that my only intent is to celebrate and honor this world hero and visionary leader."
Gehry noted that he has met with Eisenhower's granddaughters, Susan and Anne, and is exploring other design ideas to respond to their concerns.
Members of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, which selected Gehry, also responded yesterday to the criticism.
Commission member Rep. Leonard Boswell of Iowa testified that he had his own reservations at first about depicting a young Eisenhower, but came to realize it would be a draw for the millions of children who visit the nearby Air and Space Museum.
"The youngsters will come out of that museum and just naturally walk across the street and see what happened in a person's life," Boswell said.
Alfred Geduldig said after the hearing that he doesn't know whether anything can be done to regain the family's support.
Susan Eisenhower told the House panel that her family has been "inundated" with comments from the public and that the memorial should be redesigned. "One of the main flaws of the current proposal is that Eisenhower's contribution to the nation is not the central theme of the design," she said. "The Eisenhower our nation wants to celebrate is not a dreamy boy but a real man who faced unthinkable choices, took personal responsibility and did his duty with modesty and humility."
The family prefers a smaller, simple memorial, she said.
The congressional hearing could pressure memorial planners to make changes, but the House panel has no direct role in approving the design. Final approval from the National Capital Planning Commission has been delayed amid the ongoing objections. Organizers hope to break ground next year on the $112 million project, which has received federal funding.