By Maharsh Barot, National News Writer
After many unsuccessful starts, plans, and delays, a national World War I memorial is set to be built in Washington, D.C. The proposed memorial has been in the works for a number of years, and is going to be erected in Pershing Park, according to Stars and Stripes newsletter.
Created in 1981 as part of an architectural refresh of Pennsylvania Avenue, Pershing Park was named after General John J. Pershing. Pershing served in the United States Army from 1886 to 1924, taking part in the Spanish-American War and Mexican raids, according History.com. However, he is most famous for commanding the American Expeditionary Force in Europe during World War I. It was his leadership during this time that led him to receive the rank of General of the Armies, a rank shared only with George Washington.
The National Park Service website states that Pershing Park is a 1.76 acre area bordered by Pennsylvania Avenue, 14th, 15th and E Streets. Notable features are a stone plaza, a water fountain and pond, and a statue of General Pershing. Its original designer is architect M. Paul Friedberg, with additional revisions later done by Oehme-Van Sweden.
In the years since its dedication on May 14, 1981, Pershing Park has experienced a steady decline in upkeep. The park has fallen into disrepair; the stone steps are crumbling away, and the water fountain has been turned off for some time now. This can be attributed to the park’s high maintenance costs as well as the lack of National Park Service funding, according to the New York Times.
While the plan to renovate and renew the park with a full World War I memorial has been applauded, the design of the new memorial has people divided. The current approved redesign for the park consists of a sixty-five foot long sculptural wall with soldiers in the midst of battle, and a smaller water design.
Significant hurdles in the instituion of the new monument will likely take place, however. The process of erecting new monuments in the nation’s capital has historically been a controversial one, as disgreements over design and financial costs have traditionally impeded upon the construction process of these structures. As an example, the Dwight D. Eisenhower memorial was finally completed and erected at the National Mall in 2013 after 18 years of planning, a process that was mired by legal dispute and controversy. “It’s a bit presumptuous,” according to Elizabeth Meyer, a previous appointee of former President Barack Obama to the Commission of Fine Arts.
By comparison, the legislation for the erection of the memorial and re-vitalization of Pershing Park was drafted in 2013. Certain details as to the revitalization process have yet to be approved, including features for the proposed new water fountains and materials for the construction of the new wall, according to the New York Times.
Despite much positive feedback, there are still some who disagree with this approach, such as M. Paul Friedberg and his supporters. Commission of Fine Arts member Elizabeth K. Meyer told the New York Times, “It’s a bit presumptuous,” and also expressed concern over the fact that a ground breaking was being held before a final design had been decided upon and approved.
The groundbreaking took place on Thursday, November 9, 2017, and included dignitaries such as D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. According to the World War One Centennial Commission, donations can still be made to go towards the construction costs of the memorial as it is built in the coming months.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 21st print edition.
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