WASHINGTON — The new National World War I Memorial received final approval Thursday from the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, signing off on a plan that took more than three years to complete.
The proposal now heads to the National Capital Planning Commission, which is scheduled to review the memorial’s site development plans Oct. 3. The planning commission has already approved the memorial’s preliminary plans.
Dale Archer, chief of staff of the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, said he believes any remaining bureaucratic and financial hurdles can be cleared in a matter of weeks; the goal is to break ground at the site by the end of next month, he added.
Lead designer Joseph Weishaar, a Fayetteville native, attended Thursday’s hearing and he smiled broadly once approval had been granted.
The fine arts commission had already reviewed the project at least a dozen times.
“It’s been a long road, but it’s been a good one,” Weishaar said after exiting the hearing room. “I’m glad that we’re at the end.”
A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville’s Fay Jones School of Architecture, Weishaar moved to Washington, D.C., after winning the World War I commission’s international design competition in January 2016.
He was just 25 years old at the time.
Partnering with New York City sculptor Sabin Howard, his design concept was called The Weight of Sacrifice and it called for sweeping changes at the memorial site, a 1.76-acre Pennsylvania Avenue park near the White House.
The plans had to be scaled back, however, after protests from preservationists and a determination, by the National Park Service, that the existing park was eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places.
Instead of the original plan to raze much of Pershing Park and start over, the new concept keeps much of the old park’s original design. The biggest change will be a 58-foot-long bronze sculpture titled A Soldier’s Journey.
That’s shorter than the 81-foot-long work its creator had envisioned.
Work on the sculpture has already begun.
Millions of people died in World War I, which began after the June 28, 1914, assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria.
The conflict, which lasted more than four years, altered world maps, erased empires and destroyed a generation of men.
The United States entered the war in April 1917, enabling England, France and their allies to finally defeat the nations aligned with Germany and Austria-Hungary.
Unlike those who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, the 116,000 American soldiers who died in World War I have no monument of their own in the nation’s capital.
Pershing Park, named after the soldier who led U.S. troops to victory in the war, features a statue of Gen. John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing.
The new design incorporates the statue, which towers above the park’s southeast corner.
It adds Howard’s sculpture, a tribute to servicemen and their families.
Set atop a new peace fountain, just above its cascading waters, the art is the centerpiece of the final design.
A tribute to the fallen by Archibald MacLeish, a World War I veteran and poet, will be carved in carnelian granite: “We leave you our deaths: give them their meaning: give them an end to the war and a true peace: give them a victory that ends the war and a peace afterwards: give them their meaning. We were young, they say. We have died. Remember us.”
The fine arts commission played a central role in shaping the final plan. Commissioners were provided with an 83-page presentation Thursday, laying out details large and small.
The presentation lists the type and size of the fonts that will be used in the park, the varieties of plants and trees that will grow and the lighting fixtures that will be installed.
Earlier this year, officials estimated that it would cost about $40 million to complete the project.
The park itself could be finished by Veterans Day (Nov. 11) 2020, officials said. The sculpture, however, will take longer, they noted.
After years of planning, the project’s supporters are eager to move forward.
“I’m really excited about seeing the park take shape in all aspects, from the sculptural wall to the landscaping,” said World War 1 commission member Libby O’Connell. “It’s going to be a beautiful park and it’s going to be a gift to our city and to the people of the United States.”
Weishaar played an important role in the project’s success, she said.
“We’re just so grateful for Joe’s wonderful work that got us this far,” she said. “And now we’re going to make this park come alive.”
Weishaar said he has learned a lot since winning the competition.
“It has been just the biggest educational opportunity I could have ever had,” he said.
Getting a project of this type approved isn’t easy, he discovered
“Dealing with the agencies, dealing with the rigor of design and redesign and redesign and redesign. … Hopefully, it won’t ever be this hard again,” he said.
Edwin Fountain, the World War I commission’s vice chairman, said he was glad to see the memorial advance.
“It’s been a challenging process, but all in all, as these things go, a relatively smooth process,” he said. “I’m just very thankful to all the members of the design team for the effort and the talent they have brought to bear to get us to this point.”
The memorial is needed, he said.
“World War I was the most consequential event in American history in the 20th century. It is the third-bloodiest war in American history,” he said. “The accomplishments of American forces, the transformation the event meant for the United States, and the sacrifice of the 116,000 Americans who died in the war are worthy of the national memorial of this magnitude.”
Metro on 09/20/2019
Print Headline: Shrine to WWI veterans gets OK
- Shrine to WWI veterans gets OK; lead designer is UA grad
- Gay veterans get OK for Boston's St. Patrick's Day parade
- Pikes Peak region's shrine to veterans makes Memorial Day debut
- Shamima Begum lawyer compares her to WWI veteran
- BYU students create program to identify if your ancestors were WWI veterans
- WWI veterans reveal incredible stories from the frontline including how bullets ‘flew past them’ in never-seen-before interviews
- Ceremony honors WWI veterans
- Blacks' WWI valor gets another look
- Veterans get aid with Anne Arundel County District Court's new Veterans Docket