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Planned WWI Memorial would harm historic park, TCLF argues

The 65-foot-long wall and alterations to the existing pool are seen as too major for such a historic park

Rendering via the National Park Service

It shouldn’t be any surprise that The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) is pushing against the National Park Service’s planned WWI Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The organization has pushed against the approximately $35 million memorial, called “The Weight of Sacrifice,” since day one when Pershing Park was revealed as the site of the project. The TCLF is not alone on their views. 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.”

The reasoning behind the pushback from both organizations is the potential historicity of the 1.8-acre park, which 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.

Now, Curbed has learned that the TCLF President and CEO Charles Birnbaum has submitted a letter to National Park Service Chief of Resource Management Catherine Dewey, which further emphasizes the harmful impacts the memorial could inflict on a park that has potential to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

In May 2017, it was revealed that the WWI Commission planned on using their “Restored Pool Concept,” which proposes replacing the concession gazebo in the park with a ceremonial flag stand, restoring and enlarging the fountain, and inserting a walkway for access to the sculpture honoring General John J. "Blackjack" Pershing, who commanded U.S. forces during WWI, with inscriptions of text and maps describing his actions in the war. There would also be a 65-foot-long bronze, sunken wall, entitled, "The Wall of Remembrance," decorated with soldiers carved in bas-relief.

While Birnbaum says that the design team should be “commended for its sympathetic treatment of the park’s perimeter,” the memorial is still expected to have “adverse effects” on the park’s spatial organization and water features. The pool’s surface area would be reduced by 40 percent, while the depth of the remaining pool areas are still ill-defined in the WWI Commission’s plans. In his letter, Birnbaum writes:

“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.’”

Birnbaum further admonished the planned project for the loss of more than 50 feet of open access between the upper and lower plaza levels and the severed relationship between the southern and western amphitheater stairs and risers.

While the memorial’s plan is known as the “Restored Pool Concept,” Birnbaum wrote that this restoration is “completely false,” further adding, “This is not a restoration; rather it is a rehabilitation effort, but with the addition of a feature that is so incompatible in scale that its insertion destroys the integrity of the heart of the park.”

To read Birnbaum’s letter in full, check out the document below.

Can’t see the document? Go to Scribd here.

Planned WWI Memorial in D.C. to use pool concept, restore park [Curbed DC]

Commission of Fine Arts asks for proposed WWI memorial to not greatly alter Pershing Park [Curbed DC]