Atlanta designer among those opposed to Eisenhower memorial

by: John Bachman Updated:


None - Congress doesn’t seem to agree on much these days, but they have decided to spend millions of tax dollars to build a new Dwight Eisenhower Memorial.  The cost is one problem, but a bigger problem is that some members of the Eisenhower family even have concerns about the project.

Groundbreaking is set for late next year for the monument near the mall in Washington, DC. The Eisenhower Memorial Commission is asking Congress to fund most of it.

"Our working number is $112.5 million, with 80 percent of that to be federal funding and the balance to be raised privately," said Brig. General Carl Reddel, executive director of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission.

Congress already has given the commission nearly $60 million in taxpayer money and will ask for much more.  Federal records show the Martin Luther King Memorial that just opened on the mall only got $10 million in federal funds.

Historically, taxpayers have funded presidential memorials in Washington. Studies by the Eisenhower Commission show the most recent memorial built, the FDR Memorial in 1997, was 89 percent federally funded. The commission believes the financial constraints of 2011 shouldn't matter.

"The Jefferson Memorial was started in the Depression, 1934, and finished in the middle of World War II in 1943," said Reddel.



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Critics just aren't concerned about the cost of the memorial, there's also controversy over the design.  The commission selected a design by world-renowned architect, Frank Gehry.

"The pairing is as if Normal Rockwell was asked to paint a portrait of Lady Gaga," said Justin Shubow of the National Civic Art Society.

Gehry's design will cover the entire four-acre property and calls for large stainless steel tapestries held up by huge columns.  Critics say it is too over the top for the 34th president, who preached fiscal responsibility.

"If there are giant pillars 80 feet tall, the cylinders will look like a permanent highway project that is never completed," Shubow said.

The Eisenhower family is involved in the project, including the former president’s grandson David Eisenhower.  But three of Eisenhower's granddaughters are concerned about the design.  Susan Eisenhower released a statement on their behalf that said, in part, "Family members ... are concerned about the concept for the memorial, as well as the scope and the scale of it."

Government waste critics say it's all too much fuss for a memorial the country can't afford to build right now.

"You got controversy over the design, controversy over the size and the cost, and I think it might be time to slow the process down and take a look at some of those things," said Leslie Paige with Citizens Against Government Waste.
         
Atlanta designer Rodney Cook said he hopes the project is re-evaluated.  He designed the Millennium Gate in Atlantic Station, and also created an alternative design for the Eisenhower Memorial.  Cook said his design would cost half of Gehry's project.

"You can spend that kind of money for something I think most people don't like," Cook said.  "Or you could do something that people are drawn to that is beautiful and uplifting, and is really evocative of what Eisenhower was about."


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