A proposed Frank Gehry designed memorial for President Eisenhower is being vehemently protested by his only living son as well as granddaughters, who have objected both to the high cost to taxpayers and the design concept. A letter made public November 20 by granddaughter Susan Eisenhower details the latest events in the ongoing struggle between the family and the commission.
It also highlights yet another attempt to impose a thinly veiled progressive narrative over historical events (the Rev. Martin Luther King. Jr. memorial comes to mind). Philip Kennicott, the Washington Post’s culture critic, writes: “Gehry has produced a design that inverts several of the sacred hierarchies of the classical memorial, emphasizing ideas of domesticity and interiority rather than masculine power and external display.”
The design, which features 80-foot tall “giant industrial steel” tapestries, is considered by Susan to evoke a “totalitarian state.” The tapestries are estimated to add considerable cost to the already substantial $120 million cost for their upkeep. In testimony provided to a congressional committee earlier this year, Susan wrote:
The design team at Gehry and Associates and the Eisenhower Memorial Commission has made a habit of referring to the metal curtains as ‘tapestries,’ referencing the tradition to place great people and events on woven material. This may be true of the Middle Ages, but noteworthy modern tapestries are those in the Communist world. Tapestries honoring Marx, Engels and Lenin used to hang in Red Square; Mao Zedong could be found in Tiananmen Square; and Ho Chi Minh’s tapestry hung from public buildings in Hanoi—to name a few.
Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, known as the “apostle of chain-link fencing and corrugated metal siding,” has said that he will work with the family to ensure their approval. Yet in the recent October 18 letter to Sen. Inouye (D-HI), John S. D. Eisenhower lambasts how his concerns have been ignored by those planning the memorial and that Eisenhower Commission Chairman Rocco Siciliano has presumed to say “his service in the White House gives him an unusual perspective” on how Eisenhower would view the design:
The Memorial design is so far off base that I urged a delay in the planning process for an extended period. An additional argument for a delay is our nation’s economic situation. We have priorities more urgent than building such an expensive memorial right now. While no one wants to see taxpayer money come to naught, the memorial design is very controversial and unlikely to meet its financial goals. Taxpayers and donors alike will be better served with an Eisenhower Square that is a green open space with a simple statue in the middle, and quotations from his important sayings.
Siciliano was recently quoted:
It is obvious to me that we must proceed with Frank Gehry’s design…We have not received a single substantive comment from the family. They have expressed only opposition…I am one person who feels competent to say that he believes President Eisenhower would be most pleased as to what the present commissioners have unanimously accepted.
His son S.D. Eisenhower has in fact proposed a design he feels is in keeping with his father’s legacy:
Taxpayers and donors alike will be better served with an Eisenhower Square that is a green open space with a simple statue in the middle, and quotations from his most important sayings.
Comparisons between the more reserved Eisenhower and General David Petraeus also are worth noting in considering how he might view the proposed Gehry design. A letter to Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Beast points out that when Eisenhower was the Supreme Allied Commander, he wore only 3 0r 4 decorations on his military uniform, compared to Petraeus’s 30-40 ribbons and badges.
As the descendants of Eisenhower fight for fiscal responsibility and ideological accuracy in keeping with the former president’s own outlook, we are privy to a glimpse of the greater battle over our nation’s heroes and history.