Eisenhower Family Says Frank Gehry's D.C. Memorial Doesn't Honor Ike as a "Serious Man"

Eisenhower Family Says Frank Gehry's D.C. Memorial Doesn't Honor Ike as a "Serious Man"
Frank Gehry's design for the Eisenhower Memorial
(Courtesy Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission )

As one of the preeminent architects of our time, it's no surprise Frank Gehry would be tapped to design Dwight D. Eisenhower's memorial. However, Gehry's collaborative design with Robert Wilson for a decidedly unconventional commemorative space in Washington, D.C., to honor the American president has provoked some ire from the late war hero’s family.

In December, Eisenhower's granddaughter Susan Eisenhower politely voiced her disapproval with the logistics, scale, and overall look of Gehry's proposals.  “I don’t think my grandfather would be comfortable with the scale and scope of this design,” she said, as reported by the Washington Post. Keeping ever cordial, she made sure to state her respect for the architect's work. On Monday, however, the gloves came off and the keyboard came out. In a letter representing the entire Eisenhower family, Susan's sister Anne Eisenhower officially called for a stop to the project all together. In the spirit of our forefathers, the presidential family outlined their grievances to the National Capital Planning Commission, which in turn published the letter Tuesday:

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 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.

One of the main flaws of  the proposed plans — located just off the National Mall between the Air and Space Museum and Department of Education — Anne goes on to describe, is Gehry’s emphasis on President Eisenhower’s childhood as a “barefoot boy from Kansas.” His designs, which to many resemble a theater stage, consist of 80-foot translucent woven steel tapestries and large steel columns, 11 feet in diameter, lining the perimeter of a four-acre park and depicting rural Kansas in winter. The main bone of contention is his statuary representation of Eisenhower as a young boy, rather than the nation's 34th president.

“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,” Anne writes. Other grievances: the “delicately woven tapestries are not likely to be sustainable over the centuries," and it "has its back to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education.”

In addition to the Eisenhowers, Gehry’s design is also facing some flack from the National Civic Art Society, which alleges that “the Memorial competition, planning, and design were and are irredeemably flawed… secretive, exclusive, elitist, and undemocratic,” as Curbed reported. “An unknown, unconnected designer could not have won, let alone even entered, the competition."

The Eisenhower family insists they’re not against modern design, but they are calling for a more simple design as their grandfather was a “serious man” not interested in the avant-garde. Eisenhower's son, John Eisenhower, called for a simple memorial in stone. 

Perhaps then, they should have voiced their concerns when Gehry was selected to design the memorial in 2008. He is, after all, known for building radically flamboyant structures. The Eisenhower Memorial Commission, which hired Gehry, plans to seek final approval of the design in March with hopes of breaking ground this year. Personally, we think the Eisenhowers should consider themselves lucky they weren't presented with a hideous "stone of hope," which sculptor Lei Yixin created as a memorial for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.