The National World War I Memorial is a planned memorial commemorating the service rendered by members of the United States Armed Forces in World War I. The 2015 National Defense Authorization Act established the World War I Centennial Commission, which was given the authority to build the memorial in Pershing Park, located at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., in the United States. The park, which has existed since 1981, also contains the John J. Pershing General of the Armies commemorative work. In January 2016, the design commission selected the competition winning team – Joseph Weishaar, Sabin Howard, Phoebe Lickwar, and GWWO Architects – and their winning concept "The Weight of Sacrifice."
The Pershing Park site was originally occupied by a variety of 19th-century structures until about 1930, when the federal government took legal title to the block and demolished the structures on it. Legislation officially designating the plot as a Pershing Square subsequently was adopted by Congress in 1957. Development of the square proved controversial, as different groups offered competing proposals for memorials to John J. Pershing, who had served as General of the Armies in World War I. These disagreements led to inaction, and by 1962 the square remained bare and often cluttered with trash. In September 1963, District of Columbia officials finally planted grass and flower beds to temporarily beautify the square.
In November 1963, the President's Council on Pennsylvania Avenue proposed a master plan for the redevelopment of Pennsylvania Avenue NW from the White House to the United States Capitol. The master plan proposed constructing a National Plaza (also called the Western Plaza), which would have required the demolition of the Pershing Square, the Willard Hotel north of the square, and the two blocks of buildings and streets east of these tracts. The American Legion, among others, kept pushing for a grand statue of Pershing for the square, but all plans for the park were suspended until such time as the Pennsylvania Avenue master plan could be finalized.
National Plaza was never constructed. Instead, a much smaller Freedom Plaza was built which did not require the demolition of Pershing Park (as the square was now known). Designs for a statue and memorial to Pershing and for the larger park were finalized in the 1970s, and Pershing Park constructed simultaneously with Freedom Plaza from 1979 to 1981. During this period, the park was slightly enlarged due to the realignment of Pennsylvania Avenue NW along the area's north side. Pershing Park formally opened to the public at 11:45 AM on May 14, 1981.
Pershing Park contains a statue of General Pershing by Robert White, as well as memorial walls and benches behind the statue describing Pershing's achievements in World War I. The park also contains a fountain, a pond (which turns into an ice rink in the winter), and flower beds. The ice rink is managed by a concessionaire of the National Park Service. Pershing Park was owned by the government of the District of Columbia, but administered by the National Park Service as an official unit of the park system (managed under the agency's National Mall and Memorial Parks administrative group).
In 1931, the people of the District of Columbia erected the District of Columbia War Memorial on the National Mall to honor individuals from the District who had served in the U.S. armed forces in World War I. But the largest of the country's World War I memorials was the Liberty Memorial, a 217-foot (66 m) tall tower with an artificial "burning pyre" atop it, located in Kansas City, Missouri. A Memorial Court surrounded the tower, with a Memory Hall (dedicated to the memory of Kansas Citians who died in the war) on the east and a Museum Building on the west. Ground was broken on the memorial on November 1, 1921, and it opened on November 11, 1926. But no national memorial commemorating World War I was erected over the next 70 years, which upset World War I veterans.
The Liberty Memorial suffered from neglect over the years, and the tower was closed to the public in 1994. A $102 million renovation and expansion effort began in 2000, and the memorial reopened in 2002. The expansion, which added 30,000-square-foot (2,800 m2) in museum space, a 20,000-square-foot (1,900 m2) research center, a theater, a cafeteria, and modern storage for the museum's extensive collection, opened in 2006.
With the 2000 Liberty Memorial renovation under way, Senator Kit Bond (R-Missouri) introduced a resolution (S.Con.Res. 114) in the United States Senate giving official federal recognition to the Liberty Memorial as "America's National World War I Museum". The designation was only honorific, but nevertheless the resolution did not pass.
In 2004, with the National World War II Memorial about to open in Washington, D.C., Representative Karen McCarthy (D-Missouri) introduced legislation (H.Con.Res. 421) in the United States House of Representatives to designate the Liberty Memorial as "America's National World War I Museum". In the Senate, Senator Jim Talent (R-Missouri) sought agreement to amend S. 2400, the Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005, with identical language. Talent's amendment was unanimously adopted by the Senate on June 15, 2004. The Senate bill was reconciled with a similar House bill (H.R. 4200) in conference committee, and passed both houses of Congress. President George W. Bush signed the legislation into law on October 28, 2004 (PL 108-375).
The push for a national World War I memorial arose from the successful effort to establish the National World War II Memorial. Legislation to establish the National World War II Memorial was introduced in 1987, and after several unsuccessful efforts passed Congress on May 12, 1993. President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law on May 25. The memorial was dedicated on May 28, 2004. In the fall of 2000, Jan Scruggs, chief executive officer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, proposed rededicating the District of Columbia War Memorial in honor of all World War I veterans. Scruggs claimed that a member of Congress was working on legislation to effect the change, and that a bill would be introduced shortly, but no bill was forthcoming in the 106th Congress. Nor was legislation introduced in the 107th, 108th, or 109th Congresses.
In 2008, the American Legion called for conversion of the District of Columbia War Memorial as well. To give added impetus to the effort, local D.C.-area attorney Edwin Fountain formed the World War I Memorial Foundation to solicit funds and act as a lobby for the effort.[a] D.C. Council member Jack Evans (in whose ward the D.C. War Memorial was located) and Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.'s Delegate to Congress, both became honorary trustees of the foundation.
That same year, during the 110th Congress, Representative Ted Poe (R-Texas) introduced legislation (H.R. 6696) to create a National World War I Memorial. The previous year, Poe had met Frank Buckles, the last surviving veteran of World War I. Buckles expressed his dismay that there was no national World War I memorial, and Poe began to champion his cause. The legislation (H.R.6696), titled the Frank Buckles World War I Memorial Act, authorized the American Battle Monuments Commission to either take over the District of Columbia War Memorial or to build a new one on the same site. The bill also established a World War I Memorial Advisory Board to assist in raising funds to build the memorial.[b] Referred to committee, the bill died there after Senators Kit Bond and Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) grew concerned that the "new" memorial would compete with the Liberty Memorial in their state. McCaskill and Representative Emanuel Cleaver introduced legislation in the House (H.R. 7243) and Senate (S. 3589) to designate the Liberty Memorial as the National World War I Memorial. Both bills died in committee. Separately, Bond and Cleaver introduced legislation (H.R. 6960 and S. 3537) to establish a World War I Centennial Commission to develop and implement programs to commemorate the centennial of World War I. Both bills were referred to committee, and both died there.
In 2009, McCaskill reintroduced her legislation in the Senate (S. 760) to have the Liberty Memorial designated the National World War I Memorial. Bond reintroduced his legislation in the Senate (S. 761) to establish a centennial commission. Both bills died in committee. Companion legislation in the House (H.R. 1849), introduced once more by Cleaver, combined the two bills. The Cleaver bill passed the House, but was never taken up by the Senate. Separately, Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota) introduced legislation in the Senate (S. 2097) to allow Fountain's World War I Memorial Foundation to take over the D.C. War Memorial and re-establish it as the National World War I Memorial.[c] Efforts to rename the D.C. War Memorial gain support when the D.C. Council voted in 2009 to support the Thune bill. Hearings were held on Thune's bill, at which Frank Buckles (now 108 years old) testified. Representatives from the National Park Service also testified in favor of the bill, noting that there was no longer any room on the National Mall for a major memorial. But it, too, died in committee. Poe introduced companion legislation in the House (H.R. 482), but it also died in committee, ending legislative activity for the 111th Congress.
Legislation creating two distinct National World War I Memorials finally passed the 112th Congress. The final bill was a compromise, which designated the Liberty Memorial as one of the World War I memorials and the Pershing Park site in Washington, D.C., as the second memorial. The genesis of the compromise can be traced to 2008, when attorney Edwin Fountain suggested that there be two memorials. Senator Thune offered his support for the solution in December 2009.
Much activity preceded passage of the final bill. On February 1, 2011, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-West Virginia) introduced compromise legislation in the Senate (S. 253) which (a) established a World War I Centennial Commission and (b) designated both the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City and the District of Columbia War Memorial in Washington, D.C., as National World War I Memorials. Rockefeller's bill authorized the World War I Memorial Foundation to raise funds and oversee the transformation of the D.C. memorial. His bill was referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. But citizens of the District of Columbia were increasingly opposed to losing their hometown memorial. The Rhodes Tavern-D.C. Heritage Society, a prominent local historic preservation organization, advocated turning Pershing Square into the memorial as a commemorative statue to General Pershing already occupied the site. The World War I Memorial Foundation opposed the Pershing Square site as too isolated by busy D.C. streets, and argued that being off the National Mall diminished the importance of the war. The foundation also opposed any new designation for the Liberty Memorial for the same reason.
On February 27, Frank Buckles died of natural causes. His death generated an outpouring of emotion, including an effort to have him lie in state in the United States Capitol rotunda. On March 8, Rep. Poe introduced new legislation, the Frank Buckles World War I Memorial Act (H.R. 938). Like Cleaver's bill from the previous Congress, it established both a memorial and a centennial commission. Poe's bill differed from past efforts, however, in that it designated both the Liberty Memorial and the District of Columbia War Memorial as the National World War I Memorial.[d] This represented an agreement by the Missouri delegation (which now included Senator Roy Blunt, as Kit Bond had retired), Thune, and Poe. As with his 2009 bill, Poe's new effort authorized the World War I Memorial Foundation to raise funds, design the memorial, and oversee its erection. Poe's bill was referred to both the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the House Committee on Natural Resources. On January 24, 2012, the Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Federal Lands held hearings on the bill.
Opposition to the takeover of the D.C. War Memorial was growing. On July 8, 2011, Del. Norton introduced H.Res. 346, a non-binding resolution which expressed the sense of the House of Representatives that the District of Columbia War Memorial should remain dedicated solely to the residents of the District of Columbia. Norton's change in position came about after she came to perceive the redesignation of the memorial as a diminishment of the District of Columbia, similar to the lack of voting rights for District residents. D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray also publicly opposed the redesignation effort. In December 2011, the Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of the District of Columbia, a local group of long-time D.C. residents, also went on record opposing redesignation of the D.C. War Memorial.
With time running out in the 112th Congress, and less than two years before the start of the World War I centennial, on September 10, 2012, Rep. Poe introduced the World War I Centennial Commission Act (H.R. 6364), which established the World War I Centennial Commission to oversee World War I centennial commemorations, programs, and observances. The bill also designated the Liberty Memorial as the "National World War I Museum and Memorial", a symbolic designation to improve its national prominence prior to the war centennial. The bill also took a new approach to the creation of a World War I memorial in Washington, D.C. In June 2012, Poe agreed to abandon his effort to redesignate the District of Columbia War memorial. Instead, his bill authorized the World War I Memorial Foundation to create a new commemorative work on 1.5 acres (6,100 m2) of ground at Constitution Gardens, an area on the north side of the National Mall located between the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Washington Monument. As with previous efforts, the bill was referred to both the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on Natural Resources. During markup of the bill by the Committee on Natural Resources on December 5, 2012, the bill was amended to reduce the acreage allotted to the memorial to 0.5 acres (2,000 m2) from 1.5 acres (6,100 m2), and for the memorial to be erected on any federal land within the District of Columbia (including the National Mall). The bill was unanimously approved by the committee, It passed the House on a voice vote on December 12. Senator McCaskill offered an amendment in the nature of a substitute which removed the designation of the Liberty Memorial as the National World War I Museum and Memorial, and removed the authority to build a memorial in Washington, D.C. The Senate approved the amended bill on December 21. A House–Senate conference committee agreed to the Senate's changes. On December 31, the House approved the Senate-amended bill. President Barack Obama signed the legislation into law (P.L. 112-272) on January 14, 2013.
In early 2012, Delegate Norton agreed to organize her fellow Democrats in the House in opposition to redesignation of the D.C. War Memorial. In the spring, Norton's staff worked out an agreement with Poe and Cleaver in which they agreed to prohibit infringement on the D.C. memorial. In exchange, Norton agreed to support construction of a national World War I memorial on the National Mall. Yet, by the summer of 2012, D.C. officials, Norton, and their congressional supporters were pushing for a national World War I memorial at Pershing Park. The D.C. Council passed a nonbinding resolution to that effect in June. Norton's shift in attitude came after National Park Service officials convinced her that allowing construction on the Mall would severely weaken the Commemorative Works Act, an amendment to which in 2003 had all but banned new memorials on the Mall. Meanwhile, discussion among members of Congress had turned toward giving the World War I Centennial Commission authority to build the new memorial. The centennial commission, too, concluded that there was no room on the Mall to build a memorial.
Rep. Poe reintroduced memorial legislation on January 14, 2013, just 13 days after the 113th Congress began. Titled the Frank Buckles World War I Memorial Act (H.R. 222), the bill redesignated the Liberty Memorial as the National World War I Museum and Memorial, and authorized the World War I Memorial Foundation to establish a World War I commemorative work on federal land on the National Mall. Referred to committee, the bill was never acted on.
As the second session of the 113th Congress neared its midpoint, identical legislation, the World War I Memorial Act of 2014 (S. 2264; H.R. 4489), was introduced by McCaskill in the Senate and Cleaver in the House. Like the Poe legislation, the bills designated the Liberty Memorial as "a" National World War I Museum and Memorial. The bills also authorized a National World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C. But unlike the Poe bill, the McCaskill/Cleaver legislation authorized the World War I Centennial Commission to oversee design and construction of this memorial, and specified that it should be built in Pershing Park. The bills specifically barred the National World War I Memorial from interfering or encroaching on the D.C. memorial, which won them the backing of Delegate Norton, D.C. Council chair Phil Mendelson, and the World War I Centennial Commission—which had recommended the site. The memorial would cost about $10 million, and retain the Pershing commemorative work already at the site. Edwin Fountain, now a member of the World War I Centennial Commission, pledged an open design competition and said that, if the legislation passed, the commission would seek to have the memorial completed by November 11, 2018—the centennial of the closing date of the war.
Both bills were bitterly opposed by the World War I Memorial Foundation. Its president, David DeJonge, pressed for construction on the National Mall. Construction at Pershing Park, he said, "will contribute to a systematic extinction to the memory of World War I ... I think [this] is a grievous error."
With action on both the bills stalled, time was running out in the 113th Congress for action. McCaskill and Cleaver believed that if a memorial was to be built in time for the anniversary of the end of the war in November 2018, authorization of a D.C. memorial could no longer wait. Cleaver and Poe met at the end of the first session of the 113th Congress, and Poe agreed to abandon his legislative proposal so that a memorial could be built in time for the war's centennial. Cleaver conceived the idea of inserting the bill's language into the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2015. This bill, H.R. 4435, was introduced in the House on April 9. When it reached the House floor in May, Cleaver and Poe successfully co-sponsored an amendment to insert the memorial language into the bill. On December 2, the language of S. 2264/H.R. 4489 was again inserted into the defense bill as Subtitle J of Title XXX of Division B of H.R. 3979, the Carl Levin and Howard P. "Buck" McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015. H.R. 3979[e] had passed the House on March 11, and the Senate on April 7. After extensive debate and amendments, the House adopted the measure on December 3, and the Senate on December 12. President Obama signed the legislation into law on December 19, 2014 (P.L. 113-291). With passage of the bill, the World War I Memorial Foundation suspended its effort to place the memorial on the National Mall.
On May 20, 2015, the World War I Centennial Commission launched a design competition for the National World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C. The competition for the memorial, which the commission said should cost $21 million to $25 million, contained two phases. In Phase I, any member of the public from any country in the world could submit a sketch and 250-word design proposal (along with a $100 submission fee). The deadline for submissions was July 21, 2015. A jury would select the three to five best entries, each of which would receive a $25,000 honorarium. The finalists, who would be announced on August 4, 2015, would proceed to Phase II, where they would be required to pair with a professional design firm to flesh out their design and present it formally to the World War I Centennial Commission. The Centennial Commission said it would pick a winner by January 2016. The commission hoped to have a ground-breaking for the memorial on November 11, 2017 (Veterans Day in the United States).
The memorial site drew criticism in August 2015. Architect M. Paul Friedberg, who designed Pershing Park, told the newspaper Stars and Stripes that he was deeply upset by plans to destroy or radically change the park and threatened legal and other actions to have it preserved. Landscape architect Charles Birnbaum, founder and president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, called Pershing Park Friedberg's "seminal work", and began a petition to have the park added to the National Register of Historic Places to protect it.
The five finalists made formal submissions to the National World War I Memorial Commission in December 2015. The commission, in January 2016, selected "The Weight of Sacrifice", by Joseph Weishaar, a 25-year-old architect who graduated from the University of Arkansas. He developed the design while he was an intern. Also selected was sculptor Sabin Howard, landscape architect Phoebe Lickwar (FORGE Landscape Architecture), and GWWO Inc./Architects.
In early November 2015, the National World War I Memorial Commission submitted the five finalist designs to the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) for its advice and approval. But the agency had strong criticisms of each of the designs. In a letter to the memorial commission, CFA Secretary Thomas Luebke wrote that "the competition designs appear to proceed from the underlying assumption that the existing park design is a failure, whereas its problems are the direct result of inadequate maintenance. They commented that many features of the park—such as the berms and other topographical elements which help create a sheltered space at the center of the park and which are eliminated in most of these schemes—are the very characteristics of the design that make the existing park an appropriate setting for a contemplative memorial. Thus, they criticized the competition program for understating the value and importance of the existing park design, and they encouraged conceiving of the project as a new memorial within an existing park." Washington City Paper reporter Kriston Capps noted that "none of the five finalist designs comes close to complying with the wishes of the CFA", but that it was still too early to say if the design process needed to be restarted.
On November 9, 2017, the World War I Centennial Commission held a ceremonial groundbreaking event at Pershing Park. United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley, and others participated in the groundbreaking.
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