Dear Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission Members:
The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial as proposed by Frank Gehry (described by Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post of December 18, 2011) does not represent the man and is the wrong memorial for the location.
This design represents Gehry, not Ike. The giant pillars and tapestries create an enclosing building-like structure where no building belongs, ruining an open space that has great potential. The design is not so radical that it begs to be built purely on visionary merit. Architecturally its columns overwhelm the site and the walls reiterate structures used to define space in memorials built on open site areas: the Vietnam, the Korea, the FDR, and the World War II memorials. The site for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial is part of the L'Enfant plan, immersed in the mix of monuments and government buildings close to the Capitol. The Gehry enclosure diminishes the view of the Capitol that would be channeled between walls. The Gehry plan is also an affront to LBJ and his memory, consigning the LBJ building to a backstage for the Gehry theater.
An Eisenhower Memorial will work well in the space if it is conceived as an open Eisenhower Square with a central focus, such as a tower with a bell or a carillon. The tower would provide ample surface for bas reliefs of Eisenhower in the two roles for which Congress requires him to be commemorated: Supreme Allied Commander in WWII and two term President of the United States. There would also be opportunity on the tower walls for some of his other roles, such as president of Columbia University and even "barefoot boy."
The existing open space in a future Eisenhower Square dedicated to a living memorial of plantings evoking important locations associated with Ike can remind the visitor of Ike's greater engagement: Kansas, West Point, Normandy, and Gettysburg. The living monument would link Eisenhower Square to the nearby Botanical Gardens and the Native American Memorial gardens, as well as to the Capitol grounds designed by Frederick Law Olmstead in a "chain of green" space enhancements signaling a commitment to egalitarian ideals and an open society.
Eisenhower the general was known for his ability to bring together, in working toward a common purpose, men such as Field Marshall Montgomery and General Patton, of large and fractious egos. This is why Ike was chosen to be Supreme Allied Commander. As president, Eisenhower was also a unifier: both the Republicans and Democrats wanted him to head their respective election tickets in 1952. He worked with Congress to form bipartisan policies on Interstate highways, Atoms for Peace, the United Nations, and higher education. The first Republican president to follow Roosevelt's New Deal, he did not try to repeal it.
The Eisenhower Square site has potential to be viewed as symbolic of this record. The surrounding buildings are strong and disparate, in need of a unification effort that a central tower with a bell or carillon could bring to them. The tones of the tower would ring through the square and extend to the buildings, making them components of one space all working together in harmony. The relationship of the memorial to the LBJ building is particularly important. LBJ was Senate Majority Leader when Ike was President. They accomplished much together, including the National Defense Education Act. It is appropriate that the Eisenhower Memorial turn a congenial face toward the LBJ Department of Education building, not its backside. A carillon tower with campus-like tones would be fitting to memorialize college-president Eisenhower (whose brother Milton was president of Johns Hopkins University).
Because LBJ also became our nation's president, the relationship between the memorialized Ike and the legacy of LBJ must be dealt with properly. Here the Gehry plan fails. Likewise, the relationship of the Ike memorial to the Wilbur J. Cohen Building must show accommodation to the New Deal tradition. The relationship to the Air and Space Museum must reflect respect both ways: much of the hardware in that museum was produced by the military-industrial complex on which Ike kept a watchful eye.
Eisenhower Square with a bell or carillon tower would form the south end of an irregular line (history is never a straight line) at the base of the Capitol that extends from the Taft carillon tower on the north, through the Garfield Memorial and the Grant Statue, on to Eisenhower. The idea of Taft and Eisenhower at opposite ends of the line should need no explanation. The line through Garfield, Grant, and Eisenhower would link three military men who each became president. Ideally, one of the bas reliefs of Eisenhower would look back at Grant; the leading general of the war that defined the 20th Century recognizing the general that led the military through the defining crisis of the 19th.
An Eisenhower Memorial such as the one I have described above is one that Ike himself would understand and appreciate, and would be a great addition to Washington. It requires no promethean rearrangement of space or traffic patterns; it would memorialize Peace and Prosperity for all, the legacy of Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was said during discussion of the World War II memorial, that it is our continued civic life with its freedoms that is the significant memorial to that war. A living green monument bringing people together in an open public square that joins with and enhances the greater plan of the U.S. Capitol is a timeless reminder of our heritage as exemplified by Ike. Such a memorial, which recognizes what bipartisanship and harmony can accomplish, would be particularly poignant and appropriate for our times. It would be one last gift of Ike to his country.