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Top WWI memorial design: 'The Weight of Sacrifice'

The winning design concept for a new WWI memorial in Washington, D.C., by Joe Weishaar and Sabin Howard.

WWI CENTENNIAL COMMISSION

By CARLOS BONGIOANNI | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 27, 2016

WASHINGTON — The winning design for a World War I memorial, announced Tuesday, pays tribute to freedom gained through sacrifice, combining classic and modern elements.

“The Weight of Sacrifice” by Chicago architect Joe Weishaar and New York sculptor Sabin Howard was one of five finalists in a design competition that had nearly 350 submissions. Each of the finalists won a $25,000 prize and were linked with professional architectural firms to develop their concepts.

The design, to be built in Pershing Park in downtown DC, features a raised lawn and statues surrounded by bronze walls with bas-relief sculpture. A description of the design concept reads in part: “Each cubic foot of the memorial represents an American soldier lost in the war; 116,516 in all. Upon this unified mass spreads a verdant lawn. This is a space for freedom built upon the great weight of sacrifice.”

The concept has to be approved, and changes are expected during that process. If the design passes all regulatory and review hurdles, the monument should be in place by Nov. 11, 2018, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, which initially marked the close of WWI but now is referred to as Veterans Day in the United States.

Because tastes differ and people often have strong opinions about how memorials should look, building a monument can be a delicate matter, said Edwin Fountain, vice chairman of the WWI Centennial Commission, which sponsored the contest.

“There is not a memorial in this town that either everybody loves or everybody hates,” he said. “The genius of this design is that it incorporates a classical memorial element in a more modernist design landscape. So it has it both ways.”

As Fountain predicted in May, when the design competition was announced, controversy has surrounded the planned memorial, primarily because it is to be built at Pershing Park, a landmark that some view as having considerable historical significance. The park, one block from the White House, was designed by celebrated landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Cultural Landscape Foundation in Washington noted that Pershing Park is eligible to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places, a determination that is expected in March. Foundation president and CEO Charles Birnbaum said the WWI Centennial Commission has “opted for conflict over collaboration” as it continues to push its memorial plans despite the possibility of the Register listing.

Being listed does not create an automatic protection for Pershing Park, Fountain said. Any federal project that affects a historic resource “triggers an intensely consultative process with various stakeholders … So determination of historic significance is not an on-off switch saying, ‘You can’t touch the site.’ It just won’t be solely up to us. We’ll work with other agencies to accommodate any separate interests.”

To keep the new memorial from suffering the same fate as Pershing Park, which has fallen into disrepair, Fountain said the commission will provide to the National Park Service a maintenance fund equal to 10 percent of the cost to build the memorial. The cost is estimated at $35 million, which does not include operational costs. So far, Fountain said, about $6 million has been raised to cover the building project and the commission’s operating costs.

“There are people who believe we should not spend any more money on a new memorial because we already have one,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., who attended Tuesday’s ceremony at the National Press Club announcing the winner. Cleaver, who served as mayor of Kansas City, Mo., before being elected to Congress, called the WWI Liberty Memorial in Kansas City a “majestic structure” that also features a state-of-the-art museum. But that memorial is not enough, Cleaver said. Not having a more substantial monument in Washington other than the DC War Memorial, which pays tribute to citizens of DC who served in WWI, makes it seem “as if the World War I men and women have been essentially shunned,” he said. “So I think it’s important to have both, something in the nation’s capital as well as in Kansas City.”

Then there’s Pershing Park, which features the famed U.S. general whose leadership is credited with breaking the war’s bloody stalemate. Many see it as a fitting tribute to those who served in WWI. But Sandra Pershing, widow of Col. John. W. Pershing, the grandson of Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, sees it differently. Speaking about the general at Tuesday’s ceremony, she said that “having come up through the ranks as he did, he was a soldier’s general. But he believed generals got too much of the attention during and after wars.”

When her husband was alive, she said, “he felt very strongly that there should have been a memorial for all who served. The general had a nice park, but he was all by himself; nobody ever memorialized the people who fought so hard and the many dead and maimed. So today, we’re going to start to restore the honor that is so long in coming.”

bongioanni.carlos@stripes.com

 

Edwin Fountain, vice chairman of the World War I Centennial Commission, speaks during a ceremony Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where the commission announced the winner of a WWI memorial design competition.
CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

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