Catesby Leigh, writing in City Journal, reports the terrible news about the Frank Gehry designed proposal for an Eisenhower memorial. The formerly skeptical Eisenhower family now backs it. President Trump now backs it. In his proposed 2018 budget, Trump throws $45 million at a project (stiffed for years by Congress) that in every facet epitomizes the swamp Trump promised to drain. Leigh itemizes the counts in that indictment in his essay, entitled “Monumental Folly: The proposed memorial to President Eisenhower becomes even less appealing.”
The subtitle refers to the recent rejection by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts of proposed alterations. One switches out the Kansas landscape in the design’s colossal “tapestry” for a landscape of today’s beach at Normandy. Another relocates the statue of the young Ike so as to kill off the memorial’s only (if not saving) grace note – the statue of the boy looking in awe at statuary representing his accomplishments as a man.
Leigh brilliantly explains the difference between Gehry’s fatuous exercise in self-indulgence and a real work of memorialization. “The Lincoln Memorial, for example, does not tell us the story of Abraham Lincoln. It enshrines his memory in a majestic temple while the statue within evokes the essence of the martyred president—his thoughtfulness and determination.”
Still, Leigh’s article is the most depressing thing I’ve read in a long time. The prospect of blocking the abhorrent Gehry design, which so recently seemed so close, was the biggest story in architecture, at least in bringing media attention to the important battle between traditional and modernist architecture. “The memorial’s recently anticipated completion date of June 6, 2019 – D-Day’s 75th anniversary – is probably out of reach,” writes Leigh. “But it’s going to get built.” At his essay’s conclusion, with a punchy permit joke, Leigh tries to lift the spirits of those who consider Gehry’s design a paean to himself and an insult to Ike. But he doffs his cap to sad reality:
In a less imperfect world, President Trump’s secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, would refuse to dignify Gehry’s scheme with a building permit. … But that’s a happier ending than the Washington swamp will likely accommodate.
Catesby Leigh believes that the cause has indeed been lost – or so it seems. (Well, I do live in a state whose motto is Hope.)