"One of the main flaws of the current proposal is that Eisenhower's contribution to the nation is not the central theme of the design," Susan Eisenhower said. "The Eisenhower our nation wants to celebrate is not a dreamy boy but a real man who faced unthinkable choices, took personal responsibility and did his duty with modesty and humility."
She said survivors of the Holocaust have complained to the family that metal tapestries would look like chain-link fences, reminiscent of concentration camps. Others, she said, have said metal scrims would be an iron curtain, evoking Cold War imagery.
The family prefers a smaller, simple memorial, she said.
Rodney Cook, president of the Atlanta-based National Monuments Foundation, bemoaned Gehry's "narrative literalism" in representing Eisenhower's humble Kansas roots and trying to "redefine what it means to build a memorial."
"If you go with this new direction, we might as well tear down the Lincoln Memorial and put a log cabin there," he said.
The executive director of the memorial commission said that restarting the design process from scratch would cost at least $16 million and would delay the memorial by several years.
Many memorial designs have drawn criticism, including the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial. Divisions over the design of that memorial, including strong objections from the Roosevelt family, stalled the project for decades and led to three separate design competitions.
The congressional hearing could pressure memorial planners to make changes, but the House panel has no direct role in approving the design. Final approval of Gehry's concept from the National Capital Planning Commission, which approves architecture in the nation's capital, has been delayed amid the ongoing objections.
Several lawmakers Tuesday said they were reluctant to wade into the dispute.
"I can't help but feel we're micromanaging something well outside our purview," said Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona. "I don't think this subcommittee, the full committee or Congress is the appropriate place to litigate a memorial design or a potential family dispute."
Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, who called the hearing, said he hopes memorial organizers can achieve broad consensus because there's only "one chance to make this right." But Rep. John Garamendi of California said art is always controversial and some memorials remain so after they are built.
Organizers hope to break ground late this year on the $112 million project, which has received federal funding to start construction.
Eisenhower Memorial Commission: http://www.eisenhowermemorial.org
Eisenhower granddaughter's site: http://www.susaneisenhower.com
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