The National Capital Planning Commission voted to approve the design of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Thursday, despite disapproval from the Eisenhower family and Congress' pledge not to fund the design.
In a nearly unanimous decision, the 12-member commission responsible for federal planning in Washington approved the final design by renown architect Frank Gehry. The final design includes a tapestry approximately 80 feet high and 447 feet long, two free-standing columns, and a memorial core.
The memorial, to be near the Department of Education in Washington, also would feature two sculptures of Eisenhower. One would depict him as a young boy and would overlook the memorial, while another in the memorial's core would show Eisenhower in the Oval Office surrounded by advisers. The design also includes tapestries featuring Eisenhower's hometown of Abilene, Kan., and plans to include Kansas plants and prairie-like grass.
Presenting the final design, the commission's Jennifer Hirsch said the design's concept is to "commemorate Eisenhower as military general as well as president of the United States, but also to commemorate the humble way he approached this role."
However, the design has drawn the ire of the Eisenhower family. In 2012, Eisenhower's son, John S.D. Eisenhower, wrote in a letter that Gehry's original design was "too extravagant." Following his complaint and similar ones from the former president's grandchildren, Gehry slightly edited his design, namely removing two freestanding tapestries.
Yet the final design, released in October 2014, hasn't met the family's approval. "As we see it, this design does not address the major problems identified by many stakeholders, including our family," granddaughters Anne and Susan Eisenhower wrote in a letter to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission.
The two called for either nixing the design's towering tapestry and pillars or creating an entirely new design.
The Eisenhower family has found a powerful ally in its disapproval: Congress.
Congress has made clear it has no intention to fund the memorial, which is expected to cost an estimated $142 million.
"Whether or not the current design is approved by the commission has little relevance to the prospects of congressional funding," Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, recently said. Bishop is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the memorial.
A bill in the House Appropriations Committee has pledged no funds to the memorial in fiscal 2016, citing the disputes over the design.
"It is inconceivable and unacceptable to the committee that a memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower could be designed, approved and built without the active support of the Eisenhower family," the bill reads. The bill accuses the memorial's commission of disregarding "legitimate issues raised by the Eisenhower family over the size, scope and values reflected in the memorial's design."
The bill calls for either a new design of the memorial or an overhaul of the memorial commission's staff.
Similar legislation in the Senate Appropriations Committee allocates just $1 million in 2016 to keep the memorial's commission operating, but includes no construction funding.
"Construction should not commence until there is broad support among the public, the Eisenhower family and Congress," the Senate bill states.
A lack of congressional funding would require the commission to fund the entire memorial from private funds. But the commission has an "anemic fundraising record," according to the House Appropriations bill text. It notes that the commission has raised less than $450,000.
Planning commissioners did not address the funding issues before voting to approve the design Thursday. Two members said it has taken too long for the designs to be finalized, highlighting the 16 years it has taken to reach this point. The memorial was first authorized by the Congress in 1999, with its location chosen in 2006. The first designs were completed in 2011.