WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Architects unveiled Frank Gehry’s scaled-down design for a national memorial to former President Dwight Eisenhower on Thursday, hoping to overcome opposition to a Washington project that has been on the drawing board at least 15 years.
The latest plan for the memorial to the 34th U.S. president and commander of Allied forces in World War Two makes what Gehry’s partner described as relatively minor changes to a plan the National Capital Planning Commission rejected in April.
“We don’t want to take a radical change in direction,” said Craig Webb. Gehry, the celebrity architect known for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, did not attend the meeting in Washington.
“I know he supports this design,” Webb said as he presented mock-ups of the new design to the commission. “He would not put something out there that he would not stand behind 100 percent.”
In rejecting the original, officials said the memorial, to be built on a site near the National Mall, would hinder views of the U.S. Capitol building. The plan was also criticized for its 80-foot-tall columns and three metal tapestries depicting scenes from Eisenhower’s childhood in Kansas.
The new design eliminated two of the tapestries and two of the 10 original columns.
The project, authorized by Congress in 1999, has already cost taxpayers $41 million, according to a report released by a congressional committee in July.
The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission picked the Gehry design in 2009, but Congress has cut off construction funds for the project two years in a row.
Most committee members who spoke on Thursday said they considered the new design an improvement.
“I’m sorry to see the side tapestries go, but I think this is an excellent compromise, which we must do,” said Mina Wright, director of planning and design for the U.S. General Services Administration.
Some critics remained adamant in their opposition.
“I will bet any amount of money – it will never get built,” said Justin Shubow, president of the National Civic Art Society, who has been an outspoken critic of Gehry’s design for the memorial. “The challenge is: How do you kill a zombie?”
Editing by Frank McGurty and Peter Cooney