Years of squabbling about architectural design and stylistic presentation were buried Thursday with groundbreaking in the nation’s capital of a $150 million memorial honoring contributions of the late Dwight D. Eisenhower as president and military commander.
Eisenhower was raised in Abilene, graduated from West Point and served as supreme allied commander in Europe during World War II before elected the 34th president in 1952. He died in 1969.
Signing of a long-sought construction permit enabled work to begin at a four-acre site along Independence Avenue next to the U.S. Department of Education building. The target for completion of the elusive memorial has been extended to 2020. The site near the National Mall will include statutes of Eisenhower and a series of tall columns, but the most unusual feature is a massive woven metal tapestry depicting a Normandy beach scene on D-Day.
“We build this memorial today not only to honor a single person, but as a symbol for all generations of the greatness of America and what our values have made possible at home and abroad,” said U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission.
“Ike’s values were American values – strength, humility, discipline, integrity,” the Kansas senator said. “Now, we live in an era where it can seem those things no longer matter. But they do. We wouldn’t be where we are today without them.”
The memorial was designed by architect Frank Gehry, who created a vision for the Guggenheim Museum in Spain and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. His original plan emphasized Eisenhower’s upbringing, but that wasn’t viewed as sufficiently international by Eisenhower’s family. Conflict over aesthetics and tone led to a soap-operate like drama. Gehry offered tweaks, but Eisenhower’s grandchildren dug in. In the end, negotiations led to changes in Gehry’s design to support among Eisenhower’s relatives.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said groundbreaking brought the memorial one step closer to reality after years of hard work.
“I look forward to the day when Americans visiting the nation’s capital can honor President Eisenhower, the principals he stood for and our state’s favorite son,” Moran said.
The national memorial is expected to cost up to $150 million, with much of the money coming from federal appropriations. Former U.S. Sens. Robert Dole and Tom Daschle are co-chairs of a private fundraising effort to generate $25 million. About half that goal has been contributed.
Dedication of the Eisenhower memorial is envisioned for the 75th Anniversary of VE Day, which would be May 8, 2020.