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D.C.'s planned WWI Memorial nixes Pershing Park, hopes for National Mall

“This has been a bizarre journey”

All images via National Park Service

From the beginning, the location of Washington, D.C.’s planned WWI Memorial has been a source of contention, but it looks like the location has now been reconsidered. WWI Memorial Foundation President David Dejonge tells Curbed DC that the WWI Centennial Commission has voted to change their plans from locating the planned memorial at Pershing Park to instead the National Mall, either in or near the Constitution Gardens.

Pershing Park will instead be an “extreme fallback” if the National Mall location is not approved. [UPDATE: While Dejonge said that Pershing Park was abandoned, Colonel Tom Moe of the WWI Centennial Commission disputes this, saying that that is not true. In a message to Dejonge, Moe said, “We are fighting for the Mall, but the Commission has not abandoned Pershing Park either.”]

According to Dejonge, not everyone in the Commission is for changing the location. Edmund Fountain, the co-founder of the WWI Memorial Foundation, hopes to keep it at Pershing Park.

Dejonge could not confirm if the design of the memorial will change or if the same architect will be used for the National Mall location.

He said, “I feel for Joseph Weishaar, the architect, enormously because this was supposed to be a significant mark in his career. He didn’t know, going into this, that the park would be protected.”

The design of the WWI Memorial was chosen in January 2016 out of 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." Plans involved replacing the existing kiosk for a flagpole and adding a path across a pool for visitors to access a proposed 65-foot-long commemorative wall.

The images planned to be carved in the commemorative wall.

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

Pershing Park was designed in May 1981 by award-winning landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg, whose previous projects include New York’s Battery Park City and Minneapolis’ Peavey Plaza. It is also the only Friedberg project with a planting plan by D.C.-based landscape architects Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden. The 1.8-acre site is bounded by Pennsylvania Avenues on the north and south, 14th Street NW on the east, and 15th Street NW on the west.

In June 2017, The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) pushed against the plans to redevelop Pershing Park. TCLF President and CEO Charles Birnbaum submitted a letter to National Park Service Chief of Resource Management Catherine Dewey, writing that the memorial would have “adverse effects” on the park’s spatial organization and water features. In his letter, Birnbaum wrote:

“In addition to the loss of some 40 percent of the pool surface, the removal of the existing fountain is more than a physical loss; it impacts the integrity of Friedberg’s design, especially the ‘feeling’ that it conveys. The fountain in Friedberg’s Pershing Park was not only aesthetically pleasing and commanding, it was designed to mitigate noise (From the surrounding vehicular traffic); have a cooling effect (from the mixing of air and water resulting during evaporation); and serve as a place of respite in the center of the city, offering opportunities for recollection, contemplation and remembrance, or, as Friedberg noted, ‘where the topography and the viewer came to rest.’”

In March 2017, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts also asked the WWI Commission for a “smaller intervention,” more specifically a design that wouldn’t “overwhelm the existing park design.”

Originally, the hope was to complete the WWI Memorial by November 2018, in time for the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day. To speed up the process to get the memorial approved for the National Mall, Dejonge says that the Commission hopes to utilize the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows U.S. Presidents to create national monuments on federal lands.

On November 9, there are still plans for a ceremonial groundbreaking at Pershing Park, despite the Commission not having final design approval, building permits, or the desire to construct a memorial on that location anymore.

In an interview with Curbed DC, Dejonge said, “This has been a bizarre journey.”