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Planned WWI Memorial needs more work, says NCPC

The designer will have to figure out how to retain elements in Pershing Park before any major changes can be made to the area

The U.S. World War One Centennial Commission hopes to complete a brand new National WWI memorial at Pershing Park by November 2018, in time for the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day. First, the Commission will have to gain approval from the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) before any further progress can be made.

On Thursday, the NCPC discussed the concept plans, requesting further details on the planned commemorative wall as well as requesting that the site’s northern portion be further developed. The NCPC also asked for additional renderings that show how the design will impact views to the U.S. Capitol and Pennsylvania Avenue’s streetscape.

The question as to how existing park elements will remain was brought up and will be the next step for NCPC’s review along with a design alternative that will be evaluated through the National Environmental Policy Act process.

According to a press release, the NCPC supported the memorial design overall.

It was in January 2016 that the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission announced the winner of the design competition that garnered 360 entries. Chicago-based architect Joseph Weishaar and New York-based sculptor Sabin Howard were deemed the winners with their design, titled "The Weight of Sacrifice."

(Here are the five finalist designs that were announced in August 2015. Each finalist received a $25,000 honorarium.)

Weishaar’s design features a 10-foot-tall, 75-foot-long, bronze, sunken wall decorated with soldiers carved in bas-relief. This wall is entitled, "The Wall of Remembrance." A new statue honoring General John J. "Blackjack" Pershing, who commanded U.S. forces during WWI, is also planned with inscriptions of text and maps describing his actions in the war. The memorial is expected to cost between $30 million to $35 million, which will be raised from private donors.

At Pershing Park, the 1.8-acre project site is bounded by Pennsylvania Avenues on the north and south, 14th Street NW on the east, and 15th Street NW on the west. The park was designed by M. Paul Friedberg and Partners around 1980 and constructed in 1981.

The proposal calls for slightly lowering the elevation across the park as well as creating a new terrace along Pennsylvania Avenue NW with planting and seating entrances. Currently, the central water feature in the park is no longer used or maintained. Additionally, the concession gazebo has been abandoned.

Philip Kennicott, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Art and Architecture Critic of The Washington Post, has previously described the park as not well maintained, “[not] much loved today,” and with a “sense of isolation.”

Despite the shabby appearance, The Cultural Landscape Foundation released a statement in January, arguing against the proposed memorial, saying it would ruin the park that is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Kennicott further noted that within less than a mile of Pershing Park, there are three WWI memorials. These memorials include the monuments to the 1st and 2nd Army divisions and the bandstand in West Potomac Park.

“We don’t need a new national WWI memorial any more than we needed a national Korean War memorial or a national WWII memorial,” wrote Kennicott. “We have built only one national war memorial worth celebrating—the Vietnam Veterans Memorial—and it so terrified everyone in its implications that no one has ever dared build another one quite like it since.”