By Guy Friddell, The Virginian-Pilot
This Memorial Day finds controversy roiling around a World War II monument for the National Mall in Washington, D.C. To my mind, only two features are deficient in the $160 million project covering 7.4 acres. One is the monument’s design. The other is its location on the Mall. Beyond those two drawbacks, you’ll get no arguments from me.The monument’s design is overwrought. It bristles with a circle of 56 granite l7-foot-high pillars. Towering over them are two 41-foot triumphal arches. They are arrayed around a sunken stone plaza.
From a distance, the upright doodads resemble gigantic duckpins set up in an alley for a champion to topple with a bowling ball hurled down the 2-mile Mall.
Some critics disdain the ensemble as Nazi architecture. Certainly it seems better suited for the Old World rather than for our Republic, ever renewing its vigor. To put it squarely, the design is an eyesore.
Fully as objectionab1e is the site. Instead of being shoved to one side, mercifully screened, the wide, sprawling monument would be set smack-dab in the middle of the Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial . Thus, the World War II monument would interrupt America’s most widely cherished vista.
From the white cliff of the Capitol Building, looking west down the long, green Mall, one sees the towering Washington Monument and the massive granite rectangle of the Lincoln Memorial.
On that wide swath of grass, Americans often gather to protest or picnic. To interrupt that long panorama with a jumble of pillars and arches would spoil the serenity of a place where the national family hangs out. Six years have been consumed by disputes over the Mall. In 1998, Rhode Island architect Frederick St. Florian was required to produce a less grandiose model, which is still overpowering.
A further revision was scheduled, but last week Congress intervened and ordered the construction to begin this summer.
That was a mistake. A monument is built for the ages, and it better be done right. The Lincoln Memorial was not even begun until 1914, half a century after Lincoln’s death. To complete the Washington Monument required 36 years.
In putting the project on a fast track, Congress scotched a suit in federal court by citizens seeking a further revision of the project.
Many veterans units work with Bob Dole to make money for the World War II Memorial, but others are beginning to raise doubts. Some 20 veterans demonstrated in Washington last week and threatened to give up medals unless plans for the design and site are altered.
In rearing a monument, the main objective is to convey to generations coming along everafter a sense of America’s character and its heroes.
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