Utahns at center of Eisenhower memorial controversy
Washington • Six Utahns are playing key roles in an unexpectedly emotional fight over how to memorialize former President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the nation's capital.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chaired a subcommittee hearing Tuesday on his legislation to scrap the design for the Eisenhower memorial and cut any funding to build it a move meant to please some grandchildren of the World War II Allied commander and to quash a public outcry.
Eisenhower's descendants want a memorial, as does Bishop, but are pushing a fresh start rather than construction of the Frank Gehry design described in the hearing as a "monstrous perversion" of Ike's legacy.
"We may not be experts on design and architecture," Bishop acknowledged Tuesday, adding that's a good thing. "We represent the average American who will visit this memorial."
On the other side of the simmering argument is the commission overseeing the memorial plans, headed by Rocco Siciliano, a Salt Lake City native with ties to the University of Utah. Four other Utahns, including former Sen. Bob Bennett, sit on the commission's advisory boards and back the design.
Washington is a town of monuments: tall ones, wide ones, those with domed ceilings and those with lists of names or haunting statues.
The design for Eisenhower's remembrance, destined for a park near the Capitol, has sparked a public backlash. Some, including granddaughter Susan Eisenhower, believe large, hanging "tapestries" of steel and glass are an eyesore.
The rest of the memorial includes statues of Eisenhower as president and Allied commander backed by stacked squares with quotes from the Texas-born but Kansas-reared leader. The transparent tapestries of leafless trees surround the memorial on three sides.
"It is time to go back to the drawing board," Susan Eisenhower said Tuesday.
Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., said the final design was an "outlandish result."
"This [is] a monstrous perversion of a great man, a great achiever who led a great life."
Bennett, who served on the full commission as a senator and now sits on an advisory board, said the design was approved unanimously, including with the support of grandson David Eisenhower.
Siciliano, chairman of the congressionally sanctioned commission, said in a statement that he was saddened by Bishop's legislation to "thwart" the memorial's design, which the commission had worked so hard on.
"This bill by Congressman Bishop insults their efforts and the great legacy of Eisenhower, in whose administration I served," said Siciliano, a one-time special assistant to Eisenhower.
Tom Korologos, a former ambassador to Belgium and Salt Lake City native who is also on the advisory board, said monuments vary widely in Washington and the current plans for this one are a great tribute to Eisenhower.
"Gehry is one of the best architects in the whole world," Korologos said Tuesday. "I thought it was an excellent design."
Since the day Pierre Charles L'Enfant scratched out his design of the nation's capital city, controversy has erupted over what and where to build. President George Washington fired L'Enfant over disagreements.
Squabbling later delayed Washington's monument until after the Civil War; critics thought the Greek temple design of the Lincoln Memorial was too ostentatious. A paraphrased quote gracing the new Martin Luther King Memorial is already going to be changed.
"I am sure there will be some dissatisfaction about every memorial," said Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., noting that plans for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall were met with "fierce objections," but the site is now well regarded. "I think maybe there's a lesson there."
Bishop noted that the grandfather of his chief of staff, Scott Parker, was former LDS Church President Ezra Taft Benson, Eisenhower's agriculture secretary, and Bishop promised Parker he would "do right in the memory of Dwight Eisenhower."
"We very sincerely need a new set of eyes to look at this situation," Bishop said, noting that while this design went through the General Services Administration process, that doesn't mean it's the best.
"Somehow along the line," Bishop said, "we forgot this is not a courthouse or a GSA convention hall."