The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial morphed into many proposals and designs since its inception in 1999.
Dan Holt, former director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library, sat on many meetings with the Eisenhower Commission before his retirement in 2008.
The original site, he said, was a building, the Auditor’s Building.
The original concept involves an existing prominent and highly visible federally owned building overlooking the National Mall, very near to the construction site of the World War II Memorial.
The top floor would have housed the offices of the proposed Eisenhower Institution and within it, the Eisenhower legacy organization’s Washington centers.
On the lower four levels the building could be dedicated to a World War II Museum.
Holt said there was a major concern about the upkeep and maintenance of a building.
Later the memorial concept moved to an outside location.
Holt said sometimes the meeting went from sublime to somewhat ridiculous.
“About the second or third meeting I was at, they had representatives from the District of Columbia Parks and Memorials because they have to approve all this. The first question was, ‘Who is going to reimburse the district for the lost revenue from the parking meters?’” Holt said.
It was Susan Eisenhower that suggested the first concept of the building.
“They had a building located which was basically across from the Holocaust Museum,” he said.
It was modeled on the Woodrow Wilson Center.
“One floor was for exhibits. One was for conferences and meetings, a real truly living memorial to honor Ike,” he said.
Holt said it was probably unrealistic because of the amount of money involved and upkeep.
“The building would not have been a problem. GSA (Government Services Administration) would have owned the building. That would have come fairly reasonably but you have to keep it up,” he said. “You have to man it. That is the difficulty of these things. If you have to man one, that gets pretty expensive.”
“It was a good idea but somewhere they realized they couldn’t sustain it,” Holt said. “It was well thought out.”
Holt that said those that served on the commission over the years often didn’t attend the meetings but sent a representative.
“They never understood the difference between the Eisenhower Presidential Library and the Eisenhower Foundation and who does what,” Holt said. “That’s not unusual. I sent a lot of memos trying to get people to understand it. Susan, of course, understood it.”
Holt said he attended nine meetings on the memorial.
The public law that created the Eisenhower Memorial set who would serve on the Eisenhower Commission.
Currently U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts is the chairman and Rep. Mike Thompson is vice-chairman.
Also serving are Sen. Joe Manchin III, Sen. Gary C. Peters, Sen. Dan Sullivan, Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr., Rep. Michael K. Simpson, Rep. William “Mac” Thornberry, Sen. Bob Dole, Susan Banes Harris and Catherine Ann Stevens.
The National Archives was also involved.
“Anything like this, with that many people involved and that many interests involved, there is always going to be some tension,” he said.
“Brig. Gen. Carl Reddell, the executive director of the commission, and Daniel Feil, executive architect, were advised to keep the Eisenhower family updated and involved.
“And they didn’t,” Holt said.
He said the issues about the design problems came about after Holt had retired as the director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library.
“The tapestry was a big issue,” Holt said.
Bruce Cole, former chairman of the national Endowment for the Humanities, too was critical of the Frank Gehry design saying, “A great monument is an exclamation point, not a question mark. A young person coming to the Frank Gehry memorial will be bewildered by a forest of eight-story columns and a blizzard of tapestries.”
Since 2012, the design has been altered and revised before its final approval and 2017 ceremonial groundbreaking.
Holt said that when they gave up on the building, he suggested an interactive museum outside.
“The technology is there. The National Parks Service uses it all the time,” he said.
Kiosk and videos could be outdoors.
Contact Tim Horan at firstname.lastname@example.org.