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Gehry offers changes in Eisenhower Memorial design

WASHINGTON — Architect Frank Gehry and his design team proposed changes Tuesday to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial planned for a site near the National Mall after hearing complaints from Ike’s family for months.

The family had complained the design focuses too much on Eisenhower’s humble Kansas roots, rather than his accomplishments.

Architect Frank Gehry's model of the Eisenhower Memorial is viewed on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 15, 2012, before a meeting of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Members of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission held a public meeting to review changes and said they were nearing a resolution to seek final approval of Gehry’s concept.

Gehry has proposed a memorial park that would be framed with large metal tapestries showing a Kansas landscape. At the center of the park, Gehry is making changes. He is replacing large images in stone reliefs with statues standing about 9 feet tall, showing Ike as a World War II hero and as president.

In a letter to the commission Tuesday, Gehry explained the changes, though he couldn’t attend because his firm designed the set for the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s production of “Don Giovanni.”

“How do you represent a man of such towering achievement whose modesty was one of his core values?” Gehry wrote. “I have refined the design to incorporate this feedback, which I believe helps tell the story of Eisenhower with more dignity and more power.”

The statues would depict Gen. Eisenhower with the 101st Airborne Divison of soldiers before the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, in World War II.

Eisenhower as president would be depicted with his hand on a globe, inspired by a Yousuf Karsh photograph titled “The Elder Statesman.”

“After careful consideration, I believe that the sculptures bring the story to life in a more powerful and accessible way than the bas reliefs were able to do,” Gehry wrote, reversing his early rejection of adding statues to the memorial.

Quotations from Eisenhower would serve as a backdrop, along with language spelling out his accomplishments as a war general and as a president who led eight years of peace and prosperity. The exact wording will be approved later, according to members of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission.

A life-size sculpture of a young Eisenhower would remain at the center of the memorial, looking out at his future accomplishments, despite the family’s earlier objections. Gehry said it will be an inspiration for the thousands of children who will visit the site.

Designers with Gehry’s firm said they had been photographing Midwest landscapes to show Ike’s roots in the heartland.

“Eisenhower was so proud to grow up in Kansas — leaving out this imagery would mean omitting an important part of his story,” Gehry wrote.

At a congressional hearing in March, one of Eisenhower’s granddaughters compared the metal tapestries to the fences of a concentration camp in the Holocaust.

Later, Gehry revealed he had family members who died in the Holocaust. The tapestries are one part of the design he seems determined to protect.

The memorial commission did not formally vote on the changes Tuesday, saving that for a later date. All the members who were present, though, voiced their approval.