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Family's concerns spur changes to design of Eisenhower memorial

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 months of complaints from Ike's family.

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

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 to evoke Eisenhower's boyhood home in Abilene, Kan. At the center of the park, Gehry 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.

"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 Division 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 statues.

Commission chairman Rocco Siciliano, who served in Eisenhower's White House, told the commissioners that Gehry's shift to statues represented a "very big, powerful change."

Susan Eisenhower, the 34th president's granddaughter, said her family had seen Gehry's updated design and had time to ask questions, but she declined to comment Tuesday. She said she would be consulting with her family.

Quotations from Eisenhower would serve as a backdrop for the statues, 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 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.

The memorial commission was to vote at a later date. All the members who were present, though, voiced approval.

The 12-year-old memorial effort will rely on private fundraising and money from Congress. Organizers hope to complete it by 2015 at a total cost of about $142 million.

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, who has served on the commission for years, said he and others have tried to resolve differences over the design and are "very close" to moving forward.

"From the beginning, I have supported this design because it brings Kansas to the National Mall," Roberts said.

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