At the July 13th meeting of the National Capital Planning Commission, the proposed design for the National WW1 Memorial at Pershing Park was considered and discussed. The design proposal has already been substantially modified and scaled back by previous reviews. You can read more about this in my April 29th post and my June 3rd, post.

Here are two reports on what transpired this time around:

From the U.S. World War 1 Centennial Commission:

‘Discussion of the World War I monument, including public testimony, lasted nearly an hour, with critics objecting to nearly every aspect of the proposal: the topography, the trees, the walkways, the water fountains and the flagpole.

One commissioner also objected to New York City sculptor Sabin Howard’s artwork, suggesting the preliminary sketches were insufficiently diverse for a 21st-century audience.

“I just want to say I don’t see a lot of women,” said Eric Shaw, director of D.C.’s planning office. “If we’re thinking about contemporary memorials, we have to have contemporary representation.”

Members of the National Capital Planning Commission raised questions about plans for a new World War I memorial Thursday, questioning how the proposal could best complement the existing park’s design.’

From the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette, July 14th, 2017:

‘Members of the National Capital Planning Commission raised questions about plans for a new World War I memorial Thursday, questioning how the proposal could best complement the existing park’s design…In 2014, Congress authorized the World War I Centennial Commission to build a monument to the Great War, saying it should be placed at a park along Pennsylvania Avenue.

But that site, Pershing Park, was later declared eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places. As a result, changes to the site have been closely scrutinized and repeatedly contested.

Designed by M. Paul Friedberg and subsequently modified by the Oehme van Sweden landscape architecture firm, city preservation officials say the existing park is “an exceptional example of a landscape design of the modern period and of an approach to the design of public space as an integral part of the revitalization of an urban neighborhood in decline.”

On Thursday, Darwina Neal, the former chief of cultural resource preservation services for the National Park Service, said the original design should be restored, not replaced.

“There is no excuse for abandoning the original design, which is a significant work of landscape architecture by a master landscape architect. Rather it should be rehabilitated. Demolition by neglect should not be tolerated,” she told the commission.

Evan Cash, a senior official [with the Council of the DC], said the current design of the proposed WWI memorial bears little resemblance to the original version.

“What started out as a project to look for a new World War I Memorial has actually turned into a preservation project of the existing park,” he said. “At this point, we’re nowhere near where we started.”

It may be time, he said, to “just go back to the drawing board and do a [new] design competition.”

Mina Wright, an official with the General Services Administration, said “This is a really difficult problem to solve, but I don’t think it’s necessary to get mean about it.”

The designers, she noted, are supposed to build a new landmark on a historic piece of property in the nation’s capital, without negatively affecting the site’s existing design.

“…It happens an awful lot where two big ideas are put, unwittingly or not, on a collision course for disaster,” she said. “I just want to take a moment to recognize that this is a really … vexing problem.”’

 

James (“Jim”) Patton BS BA MPA is a retired state official from Shawnee, Kansas and a frequent contributor to several WW1 e-publications, including "Roads to the Great War," "St. Mihiel Tripwire," "Over the Top" and "Medicine in the First World War." He has spent many hours walking the WW1 battlefields, and is also an authority on British regiments and a collector of their badges. An Army Engineer during the Vietnam War, he does work for the US World War 1 Centennial Commission and has memberships in the WW1 Historical Association, the Western Front Association, the Indian Military Historical Society and the Salonika Campaign Society.