New Objections Over Site, Design of WWII Memorial (Chicago Tribune)

By Michael Killian, Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON — As the nation prepared to observe Tuesday’s 56th anniversary of the Allied D-Day landings in Normandy, a civic watchdog group urged Congress on Monday to block construction of the long-awaited World War II Memorial on Washington’s Mall.

The group, called the Committee of 100 on the Federal City demanded a different location and a redesign of the $100 million, 7.6-acre project.

Groundbreaking for the memorial already has been scheduled for November Tom Hanks, star of the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” and other notables have been leading a fundraising campaign on its behalf, noting that thousands of World War II veterans are dying every week without any official national monument to their service and sacrifice.

Opponents of the project argued at a Monday news conference that building the monument near the Lincoln Memorial’s reflecting pool would destroy the Mall’s open space and interfere with the visual sweep between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial.

They also complained that the proposed design is obtrusive, cryptlike and a disservice to the memory of World War II veterans. A national television advertising campaign has been launched by the committee to seek public support to halt the project.

Opponents advocate the adoption of an alternative site for the memorial near the Capitol on the Anacostia River, where they said historic warships could be an-. anchored as museums.

“Destroying the National Mall should not be part of our legacy,” said World War II veteran John Graves, a spokesman for Veterans to Save the Mall, a group that appeared with Committee of 100 representatives at the news conference.

Authorized by Congress in 1993, the World War II Memorial originally was to have been built on one of six other proposed sites in the capital, including one near the present Vietnam and Korean War memorials.

But the open-mall area was ultimately selected to gain more prominence.”

President Clinton dedicated the site in 1995. It stretches across the foot of the reflecting pool extending from the Lincoln Memorial toward the Washington Monument. This location was approved for the World War II complex by the federal Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission, which have final say over national monuments in the capital area.

The Fine Arts Commission; however, rejected architect Frederich St. Florian’s original design for the complex because, the commission said, it was too large and imposing. Critics complained that the massive ring of towering columns proposed by St. Florian were reminiscent of the Nazi-era edifices of Adolf Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer.

Committee of 100 trustee Charles Cassell, a former World War II flier and a member of the District of Columbia Planning Commission, said a new design being prepared by St. Florian is just as disturbing.

He said it ruins the Mall’s openness with twin, 4-story “victory arches” and places the centerpiece of the memorial – white symbolic coffin-in a 6-foot pit, he said, adding, “It looks like a cemetery.”

Charles Atherton, secretary of the Fine Arts Commission, said the new design is expected to come before the agency next month, but the site selection should be considered final.

“We fought for that Mall site,” said Steve Thomas, spokesman for the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans organization. “The other one they’re proposing doesn’t sound very prominent-or easy to get to.”

“The Committee of 100 has raised its objections throughout the process,” Atherton said, “but they haven’t proved very persuasive.” Cassall said Congress could overrule the commissions’ decisions. He complained that backers of the project have produced only sketches of the new design and have refused to submit a scale model of the plan and setting that would dramatically illustrate its failings.