The Brawl on the Mall (Preservation)

By Christopher Shea, Preservation

Former senator Bob Dole has been trying to get a World War II Memorial built almost since failing to become leader of the free world in 1996. At the final hearing for the memorial, now likely to be placed smack in the heart of the National Mall in Washington, he put his near presidential aura to work one more time. “We know not many of us will see it,” the 77-year-old war veteran told a standing-room-only session of the National Capital Planning Commission, in his familiar prairie-flat monotone. “But our children will see it, our grandchildren. And they will walk away with the understanding that sometime in your life … you may be called on to make a sacrifice.” His crippled right arm, rigid at his side, lent his words gravity.

But the memorial’s opponents hadn’t backed down when Dole threw his weight behind the project in the first place, nor flinched when America’s most popular actor, Tom Hanks, joined Dole in the cause, plugging the project in TV ads and at the People’s Choice Awards, and they sure weren’t retreating now. The voice of Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s delegate to the House of Representatives trembled with anger as she spoke. “Who would history blame,” she intoned, “for the unspeakably confused set of half-baked notions before you that pass as a memorial?”

As an African-American, she thundered, she was especially upset because the memorial “trespasses both physically and thematically on the Lincoln Memorial,” space made sacred, in part, by Martin Luther King Jr. with his “I Have a Dream” speech. And Dole and Norton were just the beginning. Over the next nine hours, more than a hundred citizens of every stripe stepped forward to disparage or praise the memorial, turning a meeting of the usually sedate commission into a forum for long, impassioned, and sometimes nasty debate-a freewheeling seminar on urban planning historic preservation, and public art.

John Graves, the crusty chairman of a group called World War II Veterans to Save the Mall, compared the memorial to a “well greased” government pork project. It “surprised us,” the old soldier said. “But so did the Japs at Pearl Harbor!” And that wasn’t the end of that struggle. Isabel Furlong, a D.C. resident, said that Adolf Hitler and his architect Albert Speer were cackling in their graves to see that their “cold, imperial, overbearing” aesthetic had “infiltrated our most symbolic public space.”

“You don’t need impressive degrees or exalted credentials to know that the plans for this memorial are wrong,” she said. “Your two eyes must tell you. The site is wrong! The design is wrong!”

But the eyes of some leading architects said something quite different about the memorial. They saw power and grace in the sunken hardscape plaza 100 yards from end to end, ringed with 56 pillars and punctuated with 42-foor-tall victory arches on the north and south ends. In a videotaped spot, architect David Childs of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill rhapsodized that the memorial would provide “meaning, definition, and scale” to its site, the Rainbow Pool, an oblong body of water on the end of the Reflecting Pool opposite the Lincoln Memorial. Robert Campbell, architecture critic for the Boston Globe, praised the memorial’s “clasped hands,” which, he insisted, would embrace visitors and yet let the magnificent vistas of the Mall stream through.

How could there be such wide-ranging and in some cases diametrically opposite views of the same design, and of the appropriateness of altering one piece of land? The debates at the September meeting-where the planning commission approved the memorial, by a vote of seven to five-amounted to an encapsulation of five years of anguished argument over these very questions.

Battles have raged over Mall memorials in the past, notably when Maya Lin’s design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was unveiled in the early 198os, but even that argument was less complicated (if equally fervent), with fewer fronts of combat. The architectural community was fairly united in its appreciation of Lin’s vision, with a relatively small band of hawks in opposition. This time the site, design, and process of memorial approval all sparked anger, and the memorial’s supporters and opponents didn’t cleave to predictable ideological or aesthetic camps.

Conservative Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer pronounced that the memorial would “mar forever one of the most beautiful spaces in any capital.” Meanwhile, Benjamin Forgey, the newspaper’s architecture critic, praised the project and the paper’s editorial board said it would honor the war effort “while enhancing, nor marring, the Mall.”

Paul Goldberger of The New Yorker, termed the design “an aesthetic disaster” with “the power neither of great classical architecture, like the Lincoln Memorial, nor of pure abstract forms, like the Washington Monument.” It would “desecrate one of the world’s great democratic forums,” wrote Nicolai Ouroussoff, architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times.

J. Carter Brown, who as chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts, another federal body that vetted the memorial, has been under heavy fire, attributes the often brutal rhetoric to willful misunderstanding: “There has been a disinformation campaign that’s been very successful,” he said in an interview. The World War II Memorial brouhaha, he added, is “a triumph of how a small group can poison the wells.”

Now the matter is in the hands of the courts. A coalition of anti-memorial groups has filed suit against the National Capital Planning Commission, the Commission of Fine Arts, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and others, asking a federal district court to stop the project. The opponents contend that historic preservation laws were flouted, the public was shut out of the decision-making, and the legal obligation of these governmental bodies to protect open public space was neglected. Meanwhile, President Clinton, Dole, Hanks, and about 50 other dignitaries ceremonially broke ground last Veterans Day, Nov. 11, as some 12,000 spectators looked on. Or at least they stabbed gold-handled shovels into a long, flower-box-like structure filled with loam.

How did we get to this point? The debate over the memorial flared up several times in the news media over the past couple of years, but was impossible for any but the most committed to the cause on either side to figure out what was going on. Part of the confusion stemmed from the labyrinthine process that anyone who wants a memorial must go through.

Getting approval for a memorial on or near the Mall has long required two actions: Congress has to okay the general idea, and the Commission of Fine Arts, a group of presidentially appointed and presumably highly cultured men and women, has to vet the location and design. In 1986, with the Commemorative Works Act, Congress formalized the process and added a few wrinkles. One act of Congress is required to get approval for a memorial and a second to place it on the Mall. The design and sire must be approved nor only by the Commission of Fine Arts but also by the National Capital Planning Commission and the secretary of the interior. The 1986 law was intended to tamp down the clamoring and promotion of pet causes that are inherent in the culture of memorializing. (In recent years, the National Park Service, which administers the Mall, has been asked to back a memorial to housewives as well as to the Second Coming of Christ-which the service determined to its satisfaction had nor yet occurred.) Under the 1986 law, 25 years must pass after a leader’s death before he or she can be memorialized. Wars have to be cool for 10 years. “It is one of the most rigorous approval processes for anything in the federal government,” says John G. Parsons, an associate director of the Park Service for the capital region and a planning commission member.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) introduced a bill to create a World War II memorial in 1987. The story goes that an elderly veteran of the Battle of the Bulge asked her why there was no monument honoring the greatest conflict of the century, and she acted. The idea of a World War II memorial had been floating around for years, however. Since 1954, the Iwo Jima Memorial, across the Potomac River in Arlington, has spoken to the United States’ desire to remember those who fought. Yet once the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was approved, introducing the idea of an abstract monument to all those involved in a war effort, a memorial honoring World War II was inevitable. In 1993 and 94, Congress passed the necessary laws, and President Clinton signed them.

The story unfolded from there in a tortuous fashion. A site switch caught opponents unawares. The design changed radically – twice. An influential U.S. senator picked up the battle flag, preparing to take on the memorial, and then just as suddenly dropped it. At the last minute, two smoking-gun documents surfaced that heartened the opponents.

Underlying all these plot twists were two especially significant issues. First, historic preservation. “If they get away with this, there is nothing that can be protected,” says Neil Feldman, who assists his wife, Judy, in running the National Coalition to Save Our Mall. “It’s nor hyperbole; it’s true. They are decimating the most sacred space in America.” But which Mall is to be preserved? The one envisioned in 1796? 1850? 1902? The other side argues that it would be an insult to history nor to reserve a central spot for the pivotal event of the 20th century. After all, Charles Moore, an original member of the Commission of Fine Arts, once opined that if the space ever stopped changing, it would be a sign that America itself had ossified. As J. Carter Brown now says: “Historic preservation is nor about freezing and embalming everything.”

The second issue was one of process. Notwithstanding the appearance of robust debate, those in opposition argued that the public was shut out of the key decisions. The appointed stewards of the Mall behaved like arrogant satraps they claim. Joseph Fishkin, a writer for the New Republic, concluded that the saga was “a cautionary example of what can happen when one man-in this case J. Carter Brown … wields enough power…to ram through his own grandiose vision at the expense of common sense.

In the World War II memorial debate there has been a tendency to imagine the Mall as a space sprung intact from the brain of Pierre L’Enfant, made grander over time but never altered. It ain’t so. For half of the 19th century, the Mall was cluttered with buildings and thick with trees. It was, in the words of architectural historian Richard Guy Wilson, “an unkempt gardenesque park, with no particular symbolic value.” Moreover, until near the end of that century, most of the land west of the Washington Monument-the expanse where the Lincoln Memorial rests and the World War II Memorial might – didn’t exist. It was under the Potomac. The Mall, it turns out, is a planning palimpsest, making calls to preserve it in any particular state problematic.

L’Enfant provided little more than a template. His plan for Washington called for a 400-foot-wide lawn, lined by buildings on raised ground, stretching from the Capitol to the river. He imagined the Mall as a “place of general resort,” as he wrote in a letter to George Washington, with lecture halls, theaters, and other diversions. The plan was all but abandoned, however, over the next century. Around 1850, for instance, a scheme drawn up by the landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing shifted the Mall decisively away from the openness and order that undergirded LEnfant’s vision. Downing imagined a Romantic garden; the ciry planted trees across the open lawn and installed curving walkways.

Spectacular as the Washington Monument eventually became, it, too, mucked up L’Enfant’s plan. Possibly because of soft, silty earth that would have complicated construction on the original site, it was located several hundred feet southeast of the symbolic heart of the Mall (where a line drawn due south from the White House crosses the Mall’s center). Additionally, it sat unfinished, an ungainly stump, from 1848 to 1885, while its sponsors scared up money Another major structure, the Baltimore and Potomac rail station, was built in the 1870s on the northern side of the Mall, near the Capitol, and its tracks crossed the lawn.

Starting in 1882, city officials dredged the Potomac to improve navigation, filling the swamps and shallows to the west of the Mall. A desire to do something with that new land, spurred by the increasingly influential City Beautiful movement, which sought to remake America’s dingy burgs into rivals of the great European capitals, led to action by the Senate at the turn of the century. The chairman of the parks committee, James McMillan, a Michigan Republican, convened three of the leading lights in urban planning of the era, Daniel Burnham, Charles F. McKim, and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., to mull the situation.

The plan these men conceived was more classically rigorous than L’Enfant’s. Its foundation was a kite-shaped space, anchored by the Capitol, the White House, and the eventual locations of the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. To rationalize the off-kilter position of the Washington Monument, they redrew the Mall’s east-west axis through the obelisk. (This tilted the Mall slightly to the south, which is why it looks askew from the air today.) They sketched in a memorial to Lincoln at the end of the new axis. In front of the memorial would lie a cruciform canal; modified, it became today’s Reflecting and Rainbow pools.

The McMillan commission proposed a raft of measures to make the Mall a more coherent place and called for a council of almost Aristotelian wise men of taste, who would guide the plan enactment: the Commission of Fine Arts. Through the years, the McMillan Plan has been roughly adhered to, although watered down for lack of funds and occasionally subverted. The first hurdle was overcome when opponents of the Lincoln Memorial were beaten back. (Joseph Cannon, a powerful Republican contemporary of McMillan in the House, had said he’d never approve a tribute to his hero “in that God-damned swamp.”) The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated in 1922, and the Reflecting Pool was completed the following year. But in 1916, the Navy had erected temporary buildings north of the Reflecting Pool, making the projected cross-arms of the pool unworkable. “Temporary” became a joke: These buildings lasted into the 1970s.

Every major memorial proposed for the Mall has sparked a fight. In the late 193os modernist architects were appalled when John Russell Pope, an unreconstructed classicist, was tapped without a competition to memorialize Jefferson. His grandiose plan involved replacing the Tidal Basin with massive reflecting pools. The design was scaled down (and 1,200 cherry trees saved), but the faculty of the Columbia University architecture school still called it “a lamentable misfit in time and place.” It took 40 years, beginning in 1955, to find a design for a Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial that Fine Arts would accept (and that Roosevelt fans would pay for). And the fight over the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, dubbed a “black gash of shame” by its detractors, went down to the wire. The opponents wanted to put a realistic sculpture of three soldiers right at the crux of Maya Lin’s V-and to stick a jaunty flagpole on top of the wall. J. Carter Brown staved off an aesthetic disaster when he brokered a compromise: The statue and flag stand to one side.

The American Battle Monuments Commission, a group that maintains America’s overseas military cemeteries, served as sponsor of the World War II Memorial. Its first task was to pick a site, and it found two candidates: a leafy quadrant north of the Reflecting Pool, known as Constitution Gardens (where the Navy buildings had stood and the Vietnam memorial now rests), and a spot on the Mall’s opposite end, in front of the Capitol. The monuments commission especially liked Constitution Gardens, and on July 27, 1995, the planning commission approved that choice. If the memorial had stayed put, there’d have been no fuss. But the fine arts commission hated the site. The problem, they told the battle monuments people when the group presented irs ideas on the same July afternoon the National Capital Planning Commission met, was that the spot did nor tie in to the McMil lan Plan’s kite shape or its various axes. Putting the World War II Memorial in Constitution Gardens would avoid controversy, J. Carter Brown predicted, since no one would much notice the design, but, he added: “I think we should not take the cop-out route and not be safe.” The commission had also been trying to preserve Constitution Gardens as a garden, rather than a memorial park, since its completion in 1976.

F. Haydn Williams, a former U.S. ambassador and a member of the battle monuments commission, made one last pitch for Constitution Gardens at the meeting, arguing that one of its attractions was that the Rainbow Pool, which offered some the choicest views on the Mall, was just 125 feet away. But the memorial wasn’t at the Rainbow Pool, Brown countered. If it were, he said, “you’d immediately have the kind of symbolism” lacking in Constitution Gardens.

There it was: “As soon as the prospect of the Rainbow Pool came up, we knew it was the best site,” Williams now says. Fine Arts told him to go look at several sites that plugged more directly into the McMillan Plan-and, additionally, to consider a victory arch, across the river in Virginia-but the monuments commission fell in love with the Rainbow Pool. That fall, both the fine arts and planning commissions approved the Rainbow Pool site.

Was it a problem that two small federal bodies, with expert advice from a few insiders, made the call to change one of the most important landscapes in the United States, a greensward that stands as marker and symbol of the nation itself? The lawsuit by the Save the Mall coalition points out that the public notice for the pivotal fine arts meeting mentioned only that “alternative sites” would be discussed, not specifically the Rainbow Pool. Yet it’s hard to imagine a big turnout in any case. “It’s very difficult to get people interested in siting of memorials,” says the Park Service’s Parsons. “The interest doesn’t grow until people see the design.” Yet the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, which concluded last September that the memorial was not compatible with its site, says the apathy is not wholly the public’s fault: Neither the planning commission nor the fine arts commission works at soliciting citizens’ opinions, especially early on. “As challenging as this may be,” the council wrote to the secretary of the interior, Bruce Babbitt, “expanding the public dialogue is the only way to ensure that decisions of such import are not looked back upon with regret.”

Others put the question of public participation more harshly. One close observer who asked not to be named says, It’s a totally politicized process and a complete insiders’ game. There’s very littIe public input in that process until that train has left the station.” To people with this view, Brown, the former director of the National Gallery of Art, looms as the villain. Appointed fine arts chairman by President Nixon and reappointed by every president since, he holds sway over other members, who today almost always vote as he does. The WWII Memorial’s defenders argue that since 1995 there have been 18 public hearings at which the site could have been revoked or changed. The opponents say that the location of the memorial has been treated as a fair accompli for years.

In any case, the next step was the design competition. That step was botched at first, almost everyone concedes. Whether it was botched altogether is yet another bone of contention. The monuments commission asked the General Services Administration, the federal government’s landlord, to run the competition, in part because it had been getting raves for finding fresh designs for new federal buildings. But the GSA treated the memorial competition a bit too much like a routine government project: It drafted contest rules, issued in April 1996, in which a large proportion of the decision would be based on the architects’ earlier projects. That killed the possibility of finding a Maya Lin-style dark horse: a brilliant idea by a nobody. “The GSA [screwed] it up,” says one person close to the process. After a deluge of criticism, the GSA opened up the contest but only pushed back the deadline a few weeks. Perhaps as a result, only 430 designers entered the competition, compared with 1,425 who entered the Vietnam Veterans Memorial competition. Still, Bill Lacy, president of the State University of New York at Purchase, who was brought in to oversee the contest, says it would be wrong to judge a competition by the number of entries. The submissions were both vital and diverse, he says: For instance Rafael Vinoly, a noted New York architect, wanted to create a permanent ring of fire over the Rainbow Pool-a twilight of the gods on the Mall. And one short-listed designer was a grad student at Princeton.

Prominent architects (including Hugh Hardy and David Childs) and writers (including Campbell, of the Boston Globe – also a contributing editor of Preservation – and Ada Louise Huxtable) on two juries chose a design by Friedrich St. Florian, a Rhode Island-based architect. He won largely because of an insight on his part: By lowering the Rainbow Pool you could solve some of the challenges of the site. “We could create something that would create a sense of enclosure and identity,” St. Florian says in an interview, “and yet not subtract from the view.

The thing was no shrinking violet, however. As shown in sketches, the sunken pool and surrounding plaza would be bordered on the north and south sides by rose-covered earthen berms, rising 39 feet above the plaza, 33 feet above ground level. Within the berms, 50 33-foot-tall columns without capitals would stand at attention. And inside those embankments, 40,000 square feet of space would be tunneled for rooms and displays. When Fine Arts looked at the design in July1997, they lauded the concept but said the whole thing was overbuilt.

Slated for a reworking, that first design nevertheless made a lasting impression. “I saw a picture of it, and I nearly died,” says Judy Scott Feldman, of the Save the Mall Coalition. Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) did a doubletake, too. In a letter cosigned by Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), he slammed “the apparent lack of foresight that accompanied the selection of the Rainbow Pool site” and the “inappropriateness” of St. Florian’s design. Kerrey got 17 other senators to pledge their opposition it.

Some observers, including The Washington Post’s Forgey, argued that since the design was rejected, the competition should be restarted. Brown, Lacy, and others, however, make a good case that most architecture competitions don’t work that way: The winning design is usually just the beginning of a collaboration between client and artist. You can’t expect a work of genius like the Vietnam memorial, built almost exactly as Lin sketched it, every time.

For ideas, the monuments commission sent St.. Florian on a tour of some of its memorials near European cemeteries-not the height of creative architecture, some might say. The corn-mission also solicited the advice of Brown and others. Brown isn’t shy about offering such advice. Some critics, in fact, have charged that the final design follows his suggestions so closely that he may as well have been the architect. (St. Florian categorically rejects that notion: “The ideas are all ours,” he says.) In 1998, St. Florian and the monuments commission came back with Version 2.0: The berms and underground rooms were gone, and in place of the columns were metal shields that enclosed the memorial plaza but offered more transparency. New arches on the north and south ends of the oval were introduced, 41 feet tall at this stage, representing the war’s two theaters. Sen. Kerrey pronounced himself satisfied.

Further revisions unveiled in 1999 reignited some of the opposition-though nor Kerrey’s; he now supports the memorial “without reservarion”- and led to charges that aspects of the original design were being smuggled back in. Pillars, hung with stylized wreaths, replaced the shields. A new “sacred precinct” on the Lincoln Memorial side honored the war dead with a cenotaph and an as yet undesigned “eternal light of freedom.”

The Committee of 100 on the Federal City, an independent civic group co-founded by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. in 1923, wrote to Brown that the new design was “clearly a step backward, a travesty,” even. The 1999 changes also revived charges made about the first plan that the memorial was somehow “fascist.” In 1997, Deborah K. Dietsch, then editor of Architecture magazine, had said St. Florian’s winning entry was “painfully reminiscent of Albert Speer.” And Judy Scott Feldman recalls, “When those pillars went up with those wreaths, with the coffin as the centerpiece, and there was an eternal flame in the sacred precinct, I could not help thinking of the Nazis. Pillars, wreaths, eagles, eternal flames and coffins and triumphal arches: This is imperial symbology.” The New Yorker’s Goldberger called the design “watered-down Speer.”

“We all were offended-and I think many art historians and architecture critics World War have been appalled,” says the battle com- the Nov. mission’s Williams of the fascism references. Indeed, Richard Longstreth, an architectural historian at George Washington University, editor of The Mall in Washington 1791-1991, and one who hated St. Florian’s first design and is agnostic about the final one, calls the Nazi argument “foolish.” He suggests that the memorial evokes the “stripped classical” style evident in much of federal Washington. In’ other words, if the memorial is fascist, so is the Folger Shakespeare Library.

St. Florian traces the epithet to internecine fights in his field. “We are at a moment in architecture where perhaps modernism has run its course and we are looking for something new. There are those who feel that modern architecture has to continue in all circumstances. Anyone who suggests a return to classical or neo-classical principles will be decried as ‘fascist.'” In the end, the harsh charge may have worked against the opponents: It was hard for all but the most vehement to go along with such rhetoric.

But if “fascist” was overkill, were the critics still on to something? If nor Third Reich-like, is the memorial banal? Robert Ivy, editor of Architectural Record, argued in an editorial in the October issue that the final design “lies somewhere east of classicism and short of poetry….Hieratic, elliptical, polite, this unimaginative display will not draw tears or stir the human heart. … It looks timid and vacuous to 21st-century eyes and strangely our out of joint with the times. World War II deserves both more power and art and less politesse.”

J. Carter Brown believes that such critics have misunderstood how the memorial will interact with its sublime site, each lending the other power. For the harshest of his critics, he has fierce words himself. He accuses them of promoting a “dumbing down”‘ of the Mall to fir a “consumerist, travel poster” fantasy. “The opposition has used so many different arguments-if it isn’t Hitler, it’s Martin Luther King, the vista, the water table,” he says. “When you have that many different arguments, it usually means the real argument is the hidden assumption’. And that is that the Mall should be a great recreational space. It should be fun: You should go and be happy and nor have to think about all those body bags and the blood.

“It’s important,” he says, “that we bring intellectualism and gristle and armature to our national symbols. We really need to understand what people have gone through before us to make it possible for us today.” Just as the memorial’s supporters seemed to be cruising toward a clear-cut final victory, the smoking guns emerged: two National Park Service documents, leaked to Judy Scott Feldman by people who, in her words, “felt sick” about what was going on. The Park Service had earlier concluded that the memorial would have “no significant impact” on the historic qualities of the Mall. And the Commission of Fine Arts had argued that the Rainbow Pool was a “sort of no man’s land,” a part of the Mall that never received the close attention of people on the McMillan commission or its later executors. But these papers seemed to say something else.

The first document was an unreleased 1999 renomination of the western half of the Mall to the National Register of Historic Places. It called both the Reflecting and Rainbow pools “integral components of the designated historic landscape of the Lincoln Memorial” and, what’s more, “integral aspects of the McMillan Plan.” The second report was even more relevant. It was the Cultural Landscape Report on “the Lincoln Memorial Grounds,” requested by preservation groups and others back in 1994, specifically to guide and minimize the impact of future changes. The study was supposed to have been completed by 1996, but it was not ready until 1999 and was never published. The report cautioned against the addition of non-integrated features”-a term that, from the context, clearly included memorials. And the importance of the memorial and the pools, the landscape report said, “cannot be separated.” But Parsons, of the Park Service, notes that reports like these are nor holy writ. They constitute, he says, a management tool,” and he insists that everything in the memorial-approval process “comports with” their content.

The documents, however, played a part in the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation’s decision to oppose the memorial as currently designed. The council complained about the delay in releasing the landscape report and said that its own advice was not solicited until July 2000, when it was too late to change any-thing. Its September report to Secretary Babbitt said that the memorial “has serious and unresolved adverse effects on the preeminent historic character of the National Mall.” The National Trust supported the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation’s position. The D.C. Historic Preservation Off ice, in contrast, endorsed the memorial, with a few caveats.

What can be done to prevent such controversies in the future? Indeed, does anything need to be changed, since it seems to be the partern for each memorial to be reviled, then revered? More effort could be made to get the word our early, before projects become inevitable. Greater reforms, however, are already in the works. A few years ago, the people who deal with memorials formed a task force to figure our what to do about the Mall. Noting that an average of one memorial per year had been approved in Washington during the last century, they extrapolated into the future-and blanched.

In a draft plan, the memorials task force has proposed spreading new memorials throughout the District of Columbia and in Arlington. According to that plan, the Mall would be closed to new projects, and 100 new sites would be selected in advance, many of them outside the fed- eral core of the city. Rough design guidelines would be worked our in advance. The idea is that no one could claim to be blind-sided by a new memorial or the scale of its design. Dispersing memorials would nor only preserve the Mall but also generate tourism in neglected neighborhoods of the city.

Sounds great, if everyone gets on board. Some people find burdensome even the current guidelines laid our by Congress in 1986: Two Republican fire-brands, Reps. James V. Hansen (Utah) and Tom DeLay (Tex.), have proposed adding a Ronald Reagan memorial to an as-yet-unnamed but prominent site on the Mall itself. This violates the 25-year rule, given that President Reagan is still alive; moreover, the plan would set up a three-person memorial commission to handle siring and design issues, bypassing all the groups that do that now. The Washington Post called the proposal a recklessly inconsiderate” one that would wreck” the current procedures. The bill. hasn’t gone anywhere since a House committee approved it, and it’s unclear whether there’s the political will to push it forward. But that’s precisely the issue: Taking politics out of the memorial process was the point of the Commemorative Works Act.

None of this, of course, affects the World War II Memorial story. However it rums our, the end can only be bittersweet. The opponents appear to have lost. But the proponents are also discouraged that what should be a proud moment is tinged with controversy. Both sides can only hope that the World War II Memorial, if it goes forward, comes to seem as ineffably right as those other Mall memorials born of turmoil, those for Lincoln, Jefferson, and Vietnam veterans.

The opponents of the memorial, should they lose, might keep in mind the words of Joseph Cannon, the Republican warhorse who wanted to keep Lincoln out of that damned swamp. Shortly after the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial, in 1922, he reflected on the many political battles he’d been through. “Some I have lost,” he said. “Many I have won. It may have been better if I had lost more. I am pleased that I lost the one against the Lincoln Memorial.”