By Southwester Staff
On September 18, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial on Independence Avenue SW opened to the public, a project that took two decades to complete.
The night before, on Sept. 17, speakers at the dedication ceremony included former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS), and Frank Gehry, the Memorial’s designer. The speakers, like the Memorial itself, emphasized Eisenhower’s humble origins. Rice compared him to George Washington, saying, “President Eisenhower didn’t seek political life. It sought him.”
The Memorial is nestled between the National Mall and the Department of Education. Two tall stone columns are situated at both ends of a long rectangular grassy area. Adjacent to the Education building are two large monuments, one commemorating his service as the 34th President of the United States and the other his role in World War II as a five-star General. The monuments have large quotes on that front and back, and the top third of the heavy stone platform is rotated slightly off-center, evoking a sense of both stability and disjointedness. The Memorial is connected to the geography of the District by two footpaths cutting diagonally through the grassy area, demarcating and extending historical Maryland Avenue SW.
The most attention-grabbing aspect of the memorial is the imposing stainless steel tapestry directly adjacent to the Education building. The tapestry, created by artist and architect Tomas Osinski, “depicts the Pointe du Hoc promontory of France’s Normandy coastline during peacetime,” according to the National Parks Service. Pointe du Hoc symbolizes “the peace Eisenhower won during World War II and maintained as President.”
Another noteworthy monument is a bronze statue of Eisenhower as a child, when he was a “barefoot boy,” as described in a speech he gave in 1945. The statue was created by sculptor Sergey Eylanbekov.
The designers faced the challenge of creating a monument imposing enough to convey the magnitude of Eisenhower’s role in shaping the American 20th century while celebrating his oft-touted humility. With its simplicity and scale, the Memorial looms large one block from the National Mall, accessible and navigable to all D.C. visitors and residents. “We will forever tell the inspiring story,” said Interior Secretary David L. Bernhardt at the dedication ceremony, “of President Eisenhower and his unparalleled legacy through this iconic memorial in Washington D.C.”