Opponents Find a Hitch in WWII Memorial Plans (The Los Angeles Times)

By Christopher Knight, The Los Angeles Times

The controversial plan to build a World War II memorial on the National Mall in Washington took an unexpected turn Monday, as opponents of the project revealed previously unreleased National Park Service studies showing that the proposed site is part of the historic grounds of the Lincoln Memorial. Final design review for the $100-million tribute to veterans of the war is scheduled for Thursday, when the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts will hold a public hearing.

The proposed war memorial, designed by Rhode Island architect Friedrich St. Florian, includes two semi-circles of 56 stone pillars with bronze wreaths and two 41-foot-high triumphal arches. The pillars and arches would ring a 7.4-acre sunken plaza around an oval fountain on the current site of the Rainbow Pool, at the east end of the Reflecting Pool, between the Washington and Lincoln monuments.

The project, sponsored by the federal American Battle Monuments Commission, has been under consideration by Congress, the Fine Arts Commission and the National Capital Planning Commission since 1995, with public review mandated throughout the process. At each stage of the review, opponents have objected to the memorial on aesthetic grounds as well as its placement, which they believe destroys the design and impact of the original relationship between the Lincoln and Washington monuments.

The studies tying the Rainbow Pool to the Lincoln Memorial were commissioned in 1996 by the National Park Service partly to assist in decisions about the war memorial design. The Reflecting and Rainbow pools, the first of the studies says, “are integral components of the designed historic landscape of the Lincoln Memorial.” The second study bolsters that assessment, citing the Rainbow Pool as an element in the 1981 decision to place the memorial in the Register of National Historic Places. The studies were filed with the Park Service in July and August 1999 but were never made public.

Judy Scott Feldman, chairwoman of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, which opposes the war memorial project, obtained copies of the studies Friday. “The review process has been subverted because it’s likely no one but the Park Service knew the Rainbow Pool was part of the Lincoln Memorial,” she said. “People would be outraged if they knew.”

Based on the study, Feldman said her advocacy group will retain legal counsel for a possible lawsuit aimed at stopping the project. Mike Conley, spokesman for the Battle Monuments Commission, said: “I’ve never seen that report. We’ve followed every legal process that has been required of us.” He also expressed surprise that the Rainbow Pool is considered part of the Lincoln Memorial grounds.

National Park Service spokesman Earl Kittleman said he was unaware of the two reports.

“Congress authorized the [Rainbow Pool] site,” he said. J. Carter Brown, chairman of the Commission on Fine Arts, expressed skepticism about the relevance of the studies. “The site has been approved,” Brown said. “The pool is very far away from the Lincoln Memorial. Where do you stop in considering what’s on the grounds? I can’t imagine this fantasy is more than a pipe dream.”

Feldman charged Monday that the National Park Service had suppressed the studies because they conflict with an earlier ruling by the Park Service that a war memorial would have “no adverse effect” if built on the Rainbow Pool site. In the newly obtained studies, Feldman said, “The Park Service recommends that any future addition not alter or damage the Lincoln Memorial grounds. The current design takes none of this into consideration.”

Feldman, an architectural historian and former professor at American University, said she will make the studies available to the Commission of Fine Arts before Thursday’s hearing.

The Park Service studies trace the history of the Lincoln Memorial, which was authorized by Congress in 1911 on the recommendation of the McMillan Commission, convened to complete Pierre L’Enfant’s design for Washington. Construction on the memorial took place from 1914 to 1922. The rectangular Reflecting Pool and the oval Rainbow Pool were finished the following year.

The first study states that “the conceptual design for the two pools (as well as the [Lincoln] Memorial) was prepared by McMillan Commission member Charles F. McKim,” of the New York architectural firm McKim, Mead and White. The Lincoln Memorial was designed by McKim’s protege, Henry Bacon, while the pools and their surrounding lawns and pavements were designed by Bacon and celebrated landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead Jr.

St. Florian’s design for the World War II memorial calls for the Rainbow Pool to be removed and rebuilt at a scale 15% smaller than originally conceived by Olmstead and six to seven feet below present grade. A sculptural element, yet to be determined, is proposed for the center of the pool, and the area around it will be repaved.

The second Park Service study revealed Monday cites the Lincoln Memorial grounds, including the Rainbow Pool, as helping to fulfill the National Register of Historic Places criteria on two counts. First, their formal symmetrical arrangement “embodies the classicism of the Beaux-Arts style found in the design of the [Lincoln] Memorial building,” and second, “the Lincoln Memorial grounds have gained national significance in the role they have played as a forum for racial justice starting in 1939 with the Marian Anderson concert, into the 1960s providing a backdrop for the civil rights movement and continuing into the 1990s.”