A rendering of the proposed Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Eisenhower Memorial Commission via Facebook)
Like many American controversies, this one involves a president, his prominent family members and millions of taxpayer dollars.
The construction of a memorial for Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States, has pitted his family against a well-known architect who they say is threatening to build an inappropriate spectacle.
"We have raised a number of very important questions about the scope, concept and sustainability of the design itself," said Susan Eisenhower, a granddaughter of the late president and general.
At the center of the debate is designer Frank Gehry's focus on Eisenhower as a barefoot boy from Kansas, Susan Eisenhower said.
Family members say the $112 million memorial just south of the National Mall should focus on Eisenhower's accomplishments as president and Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II and not on his youth as a "barefoot boy."
"Memorials in Washington speak for the nation as a whole," Susan Eisenhower said. "The nation is not grateful because he grew up in rural America. He defeated Nazi Germany. He led us through tumultuous times in war and peace."
She added that the memorial should be "simpler and more universal," and "symbolize the importance of Dwight Eisenhower's contribution to this country."
Renderings of the memorial show the 4-acre space will be framed by transparent woven metal tapestries showing the landscape of Eisenhower's hometown, Abilene, Kan., and supported by 80-foot-tall columns.
Included in the proposed "Eisenhower Square" are two large bas reliefs depicting images of him serving as president and general, walls of excerpts from the former president's most famous speeches, and a sculpture of Eisenhower as a young boy.
Family members say the memorial is being fast-tracked inappropriately through the approval process.
The National Park Service, on behalf of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, submitted an application to the National Capital Planning Commission for preliminary design review, according to a statement by Marcel Acosta, the planning commission executive director.
In January, the commission "received a letter from the Eisenhower family expressing concerns regarding the design of the proposed memorial," Acosta said, adding that the group will "consider the comments and requests made in the Eisenhower family's letter, along with other information in the public record." It's unclear when the commission will review the project.
The memorial, which will be located at Independence and Maryland Avenues between 4th and 6th Streets Southwest, will be dedicated on Memorial Day, May 25, 2015, the 70th anniversary of the Allied forces' victory in World War II, said Carl Reddel, executive director of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission.
Criticisms of the memorial fail to take into account that the project has been in the works since 2001, as well as Gehry's plan to include the large bas reliefs and speech excerpts, Reddel said.
"The challenge of getting this right is an important one, and in the process of doing that, we have benefited from the inputs of the family," Reddel said.
David Eisenhower, a grandson of the late president, resigned from the memorial commission in December, leaving the body with no representative from his family. A month later, he wrote his family members an email, saying in part, "I am very relieved that the design issues have been reopened," according to Susan Eisenhower.
Roger K. Lewis, a practicing architect and author of The Washington Post column "Shaping the City," has published his criticisms. "You don't need a space that's the size of four football fields to make a memorial for Eisenhower," Lewis said in an interview. "This notion of putting up these huge tapestries depicting Kansas is totally inappropriate."
The Commission of Fine Arts unanimously approved the concept of the memorial in September. In a letter explaining the move, Thomas Luebke, the commission's secretary, wrote that the group "approved the revised concept, expressing great enthusiasm for the development of the design and for the artistic quality of the tapestry mock-ups as displayed on the memorial site."
He later added in an interview that the commission has not given its final approval and has not been formally presented with the main commemorative elements of the memorial.
Susan Eisenhower is hoping officials will delay the approval process. "It's important for giving people a chance to express their views on the design," she said. "The next step is obviously to re-engage with the relevant parties."