WWII Memorial: All Things Considered (NPR)

By Alex Van Oss, National Public Radio

For five years the conflict of words and blueprints has reigned over the proposed World War II memorial on the national mall in Washington, D.C. Today the Commission on Fine Arts held final hearings on the design of the monument. Veterans, architects, and politicians were on hand to object. They say the approved site at the Lincoln Memorial is not only inappropriate, but possibly illegal.

Alex Van Oss reports:

Bright and early on the steps of the Department of the Interior, a group calling itself the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, gathered and announced it had received National Park Service documents indicating that the site for the proposed memorial might be off limits. Andrea Ferster is the coalition’s attorney:

“The significant violation, or potential violation of the law that I’ve identified is of the Commemorative Works Act. And this violation is revealed by these recently released National Park Service documents that show for the first time that the Rainbow Pool, which will be destroyed by the World War II Memorial, is an integral component of the Lincoln Memorial grounds which is an existing protected commemorative work.”

In other words, building there would be like sticking a new monument on top of or inside an older one. The group charges that the Park Service documents were prepared a year ago and only now were made public. In them is stipulated a key idea, that the Rainbow and Reflecting Pools are integral parts of the historic mall landscape.

Fine Arts Commission Chairman, J. Carter Brown says that the site selection for the war memorial has been forthright and proper and he rejects the notion of any illegalities:

“The site has been approved, it has been hallowed by earth from cemeteries of World War II dead all over the world, it has been dedicated by the President of the United States, almost one hundred million dollars has been raised on the basis of it being on that site.”

Critics say the vertical elements of the monument would block the view. These include two arches and fifty-six pillars with an open vista. There would also be the so called Freedom Wall with sculpted gold stars.

Fine Arts Commission Secretary, Charles Atthenten says critical input from the public has resulted in design changes that has lowered the proposed memorial so it won¹t intrude on the mall:

“There are ramps down to an area which now surrounds the pool but is about six feet lower in grade than the existing pool. That will give a sense of space to the Rainbow Pool that it doesn’t have now.”

The Commission voted to sign off on the proposed new plan, which goes before the National Capitol Planning Commission in September for more review and more public input. The National Coalition to Save Our Mall plans to be there as well.

For NPR News, this is Alex Van Oss in Washington.