Eisenhower Family Letter Contra Gehry’s Memorial Design

On January 9, 2011, the Eisenhower family sent strongly worded letters to the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) calling for a halt to the authorization of the Eisenhower Memorial.   A scan of the letters can be found here.

The family’s criticisms of the Memorial echo those the National Civic Art Society set forth in its comprehensive Report on Frank Gehry’s Eisenhower Memorial.

Anne Eisenhower, the president’s granddaughter, faxed two letters to the NCPC.  The longer one is signed “Anne Eisenhower, representing all members of the Eisenhower family.”  That includes David Eisenhower, who resigned from the Eisenhower Memorial Commission in December.  The second letter was written by the Honorable John S. D. Eisenhower, who is the president’s son and heir, the executor of his will, and former U.S. ambassador to Belgium.

The Eisenhower family’s letter, dated January 9, 2012, is as follows.  Below it is the letter from the president’s son.  (Italics  in original; bold emphasis added.)

Dear Members of the National Capital Planning Commission,

As you may know, the Eisenhower family has issued a statement voicing our concern about the Eisenhower Memorial design.  We have spoke to Chairman Siciliano, Frank Gehry and the Commission staff, but feel it is important for you to hear directly from us about the issues involved.  If consideration of the Gehry design is on NCPC’s agenda in February, we are writing to request an opportunity to speak.

We are calling for an indefinite delay in the approval process and an indefinite postponement for the ground breaking for the memorial until there is a thorough review of the design.  We have been told by a number of professionals that this memorial has been “fast-tracked” to meet some arbitrary deadline.  We believe it is inappropriate given the controversy that surrounds the design and its concept.  It is far more important to adopt a memorial design that has the support of the Eisenhower family, Congress and the American people than it is to rush forward with a design and concept that are flawed.  I attach a letter from my father, John S.D. Eisenhower, Dwight Eisenhower’s heir and executor of his will.

To summarize our position, the following points represent our collective objections, but they are not the sum total of them.

  • The Eisenhower Memorial is not fulfilling its Congressional mandate.  The 106th Congress Public Law 79 states that “an appropriate permanent memorial to Dwight [D.] Eisenhower should be created to perpetuate his memory and his contributions to the United States.”  The current design does very little to depict the reasons, as stated by Congress, that Eisenhower is being honored: for Supreme Command of Allied Forces during WWII and subsequently as 34th President of the United States.  Instead the central theme of the memorial is to a “barefoot boy from Kansas.”
  • Celebrating Eisenhower’s roots rather than his accomplishments risks isolating Ike from contemporary visitors, especially those from urban industrialized parts of the country and immigrant communities.  Eisenhower has as much to say to these Americans as he does to farm children from the mid-west.  During the war, Eisenhower liberated not only Europe, but also the victims of the Nazi Holocaust.  During his presidency, he successfully desegregated the Armed Forces of the United States, and the nation’s capital, Washington DC–to name only two of his civil rights accomplishments.
  • The “one of a kind” delicately woven tapestries are not likely to be sustainable over the centuries.  The proposed Eisenhower Memorial could easily look dated or uncared for in a matter of years, despite best efforts at maintenance.  Wind-swept debris and metal discoloration are but a few concerns that come to mind.  As innovative and exciting as the tapestries are per se, they are inappropriate in this space and do nothing but serve as an expensive and unnecessary backdrop to a flawed concept.  Great monuments to our leaders are simple in design and made of durable stone for a reason.  This memorial must speak to the ages and last just as long.
  • The memorial has its “back” to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education. Despite the translucency of the metal tapestries, it is symbolically inappropriate that the memorial tapestries “exclude” rather than “include” the building named for a man who was the leader of a co-equal branch of government at the time.  President Eisenhower was proud that he accomplished so much during his two term presidency.  This was in no small measure due to the bi-partisan atmosphere Ike worked hard to foster.  His relationship with Lyndon Baines Johnson, who was Majority Leader (D-Texas), was critical to this success.
  • The Memorial relies on interactive technology to “tell the story.”  This role is rightly and appropriately played by the Eisenhower Presidential Library and the Eisenhower Foundation, as well as other organizations founded by Dwight Eisenhower himself.  Interactive technology will require expensive on-going updates, especially as technological capability continues its revolutionary pace.
  • The EMC is pushing a very aggressive time line, despite our opposition to the design and the brewing controversy that surrounds its concept.  With EMC staff present, Mr. Gehry told my sister, Susan, and me on December 1, 2011 that he is willing to make major changes.  Despite his promises there has been no follow-up with us–either by EMC staff or Gehry and Associates–despite an email to them from me.

The Eisenhower family is requesting an indefinite delay in the design approval and ground breaking–pending further discussions with the family significantly changing the concept, scale and scope of the memorial.


Anne Eisenhower, representing all members of the Eisenhower family

John S. D. Eisenhower’s letter, dated December 19, 2011,  is as follows:

Dear Anne and Susan,

I have the impression that there are rumors of dissension in the family regarding the nature of the proposed Eisenhower Memorial in Washington.  As you know, I am totally behind you both and Mary in the efforts you are making to have current proposals re-examined in a deliberate and thorough manner.  And, your brother, David, articulated his support for your leadership in his recent resignation letter to the Eisenhower Memorial Commission.

We are agreed that the proposed memorial should be as simple as possible and encapsulate, as much as can be done in stone, the accomplishments and principles of your grandfather, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Finally, I would like to express my appreciation of the enthusiastic way all four of the Eisenhower grandchildren have worked in all matters concerning Ike’s place in history.

[Signed] John SD Eisenhower

Note that in the 1960s, when the ugly officially chosen design for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial was opposed by the Roosevelt family, the memorial’s architects resigned their commission.  If the Eisenhower Memorial is constructed, it will be the first national presidential memorial built without the support of the president’s family.

***We’d Like What Ike Would Have Liked***

4 Responses to “Eisenhower Family Letter Contra Gehry’s Memorial Design”
  1. William A. Hoisington, Jr. Professor Emeritus of History, University of Illinois at Chicago says:

    I support the Eisenhower family 100% in its request to delay the approval of the Eisenhower Memorial. I have read the Q & A in the current issue of the Washingtonian. There seems to me a real cause for review and/or rethinking of the design that goes way beyond family concerns and sensibilities. My research/writing is in Modern European (and French Colonial History), especially during the period of the Second World War and the Allied Landings in French North Africa (November 1942). These landings were accomplished under the leadership of General Eisenhower and were, in some ways, the prelude to the Normandy Landings in June 1944. An Eisenhower Memorial should acknowledge Eisenhower’s important military leadership in WW 2 as Supreme Allied Commander as well as (and surely as important) his significant years as president. Next to President Roosevelt and (and perhaps Eisenhower’s military superior and mentor, General Geroge C. Marshall), Eisenhower is/was the most significant figure of America’s Second World War history.

  2. Robert Barber says:

    I think you should hold out until you are satisfied. This monument and park is going to represent your grandfather and you. Please hold out until you are satisfied.

  3. John Van de Loop says:

    Has opposition to this awful design lost steam? Or rather, did it never gain steam? I am so saddened that this design will go froward against the family wishes. I am concerned that a project of this magnitude and historical importance has not gained a solid footing in the press and consequently, few know about it. What a shame.

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