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Founder of D.C.’s WWI Memorial effort expresses ‘grave concerns’ in a letter to Commission of Fine Arts

In a letter to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, David Dejonge says, “Either the park is a park, or it is a memorial—it can’t be both”

Rendering of the planned WWI Memorial at Pershing Park.
Image via National Park Service

Despite a ceremonial groundbreaking in November 2017, progress has been slow on the planned WWI Memorial in Washington, D.C. Part of the delay is that the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) is still finding design issues with the approximately $35 million memorial. The location is also still under contention.

David Dejonge, founder of the WWI Memorial Effort in D.C. and president of the WWI Memorial Foundation, sent the CFA a letter on February 15, 2018, detailing his concerns with the WWI Centennial Commission’s (WWICC) plans to place the memorial in Pershing Park. In Dejonge’s letter to the CFA, he writes:

“Simply put, what has happened now is a collision with an end result of total obliteration of the intent and the definition of the original architect and landscapers’ visions. Their formative and defining features at and in Pershing Park are about to be washed away. It will not work. Either the park is a park, or it is a memorial—it can’t be both. Analyzing and discussing beyond this will only cloak the true situation.”

Dejonge claims that the WWICC knew before or during the design competition that Pershing Park was eligible for being designated a historic landmark. He also claims that the WWICC has repeatedly “ignored direction” from the CFA about making the memorial less intrusive to the park.

“What good are significant protections and instructions if they are ignored or at the least pushed beyond the limit enough to erode their clarity for future situations?” asked Dejonge in his letter.

To see Dejonge’s full letter, see below. Can’t see the letter? Click here to access the document on Scribd.

To further express his dismay, Dejonge wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post, arguing why he believes the planned WWI Memorial should be on the National Mall, not Pershing Park, arguing that the location will seldom be seen by D.C. visitors.

Dejonge is not alone in his views that the memorial’s potential location at Pershing Park may not be for the best. In June 2017, The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) President and CEO Charles Birnbaum sent a letter to National Park Service about his views on the site placement. He wrote that the design was “incompatible in scale” and may “destroy ... the integrity of the heart of the park.” He also argued that the project’s design could end up in 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.

Still, the CFA finds issues with the current design of the planned WWI Memorial. In the CFA’s February 2018 meeting, CFA members saw the roughly 65-foot-long sculptural wall as unacceptable in how it could impact the design of Pershing Park. With hopes to have it reduced, the CFA suggested a length of approximately 50 feet.

As a follow-up to the meeting, CFA Secretary Thomas Luebke wrote in a letter to the WWICC that while the CFA expressed support for the narrative of the bas relief sculptures in the wall, that there are some redundancies that should be eliminated. The CFA also recommended verifying the historical accuracy of depicting racially integrated fighting units. More clarity is also requested on the relationship of the walkways to the stepped edges of the pool and to the sculpture wall.

When it comes to the planned pool, there are hopes for the sound of cascading water to be an added experience to the park. The CFA also argued against “odd conditions,” such as the notch proposed at the north side of the wall and the potentially narrow, dark strip of water against the western side of the wall.

In a press release following the meeting, the WWICC wrote that “reaction was generally positive” despite the additional design suggestions by the CFA.

For more details and renderings of the design concept for the memorial, head to this Curbed DC article.