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US presidents and Taiwan back Eisenhower Memorial

Frank Gehry revises controversial design but the family of the soldier and statesman remains unimpressed

Controversial plans for a memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower in Washington, DC, which have fallen foul of the late president’s family, are moving forward again after the Taiwanese government donated $1m to the project. Heavyweight backing has come from former US presidents, with Bill Clinton recently joining Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush on the memorial’s advisory committee.

In 2009, the architect Frank Gehry was chosen to design the memorial, which is planned for a site on Independence Avenue, opposite the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. However, funding and planning issues have delayed the project, which is now due to be completed in 2019—the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings overseen by Eisenhower as the supreme commander of the invading Allied forces in Europe during the Second World War. 

Eisenhower’s late son John wrote in 2012: “The memorial design is so far off base that I urged a delay in the planning process for an extended period.” The design has since been revised. According to the memorial’s website, Eisenhower will be commemorated by three statues. He will be depicted as the 34th US president (flanked by “abstract figures representative of civilian power and military power”), as the supreme Allied commander during the Second World War and as a young man.

Eisenhower Square, as the site will be known, was to be framed by transparent metal tapestries. These were intended to depict the plains of Kansas, representing Eisenhower’s childhood. Two of the tapestries have since been scrapped and only one remains. 

Anne and Susan Eisenhower, the late president’s granddaughters, told the Eisenhower Memorial Commission last year that the revised design “does not address the major problems identified by many stakeholders, including our family”, however. Objecting to the “extravagant” design, the pair even suggested starting again from scratch. Susan Eisenhower declined to comment when we contacted her. 

The cost of the scheme is contentious. A spokeswoman for the Eisenhower Memorial says that “$142m remains a good estimate for cradle-to-grave costs [such as] planning, design, construction, turnover to the National Park Service and operations”. The US Congress has earmarked $49m for the planning phase, and $17m has been set aside for construction. 

Fundraising gears up

Gehry’s design was given final approval by the National Capital Planning Commission this year. “Once federal approvals were given last July, fundraising started in earnest, with former senator Bob Dole serving as finance chair, and former secretary of state James Baker and former senator Chris Dodd acting as vice-chairs. Senator Dole has been working overtime to bring in some significant gifts,” the spokeswoman says.  “At this point, cash and pledges in hand are well into seven figures,” she adds, denying a report that only $448,000 had been raised in private donations.