Parks and Memorials Bills: S 2097



STATEMENT OF KATHERINE H. STEVENSON,

ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, BUSINESS SERVICES, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,

BEFORE THE

SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS,

OF THE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES,

CONCERNING S. 2097,

TO AUTHORIZE THE REDEDICATION OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA WAR MEMORIAL

AS A NATIONAL AND DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA WORLD WAR I MEMORIAL

TO HONOR THE SACRIFICES MADE BY AMERICAN VETERANS OF WORLD WAR I.

DECEMBER 3, 2009 

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the Department of the Interior's views on S. 2097, to authorize the rededication of the District of Columbia War Memorial as a National and District of Columbia World War I Memorial to honor the sacrifices made by American veterans of World War I.

The Administration appreciates the sponsors' recognition of the sacrifices of Americans who served in World War I.This is an important era in American history which has been honored through a number of monuments throughout the nation.The Administration shares the sponsors' sentiment on this subject and would like to continue working with the Congress on it.

However, we feel that it would be premature to designate the District of Columbia War Memorial (Memorial) as the National and District of Columbia World War I Memorial.There has not been any study authorized or conducted to determine which of the various World War I Memorials in the United States would be best suited to be named as the single or official National World War I Memorial.Further, the bill undermines several significant provisions of the Commemorative Works Act. Therefore, the Department cannot support S. 2097.

S. 2097 would authorize the World War I Memorial Foundation (Foundation) to establish a commemorative work rededicating the existing District of Columbia War Memorial as a National and District of Columbia World War I Memorial by restoring the Memorial and adding an appropriate sculptural or other commemorative element.

The District of Columbia War Memorial was authorized by Congress on June 7, 1924, to commemorate the citizens of the District of Columbia who served in World War I. The Memorial was funded by both organizations and citizens of the District of Columbia.Construction of the Memorial began in the spring of 1931 and was dedicated by President Herbert Hoover on November 11, 1931. It was the first war memorial to be erected in West Potomac Park and remains the only local District memorial on the National Mall. The Memorial is a contributing structure in East and West Potomac Parks entry in the National Register of Historic Places.

Designed by Washington architect Frederick H. Brooke, with Horace W. Peaslee and Nathan C. Wyeth as associate architects, inscribed on the base of the Memorial are the names of the 499 District of Columbia citizens who lost their lives in the war. The Memorial was designed to be used as a bandstand and is large enough to hold an 80-member band.Concerts were held there until May 1, 1960.Today's visitors are likely those who are there for its peaceful and contemplative setting.

The Department concurs with the findings of the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission (NCMAC) and the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) that adding a National World War I Memorial near the District of Columbia War Memorial would allow a new memorial into the Reserve as well as encroach upon the existing Memorial, either of which would be violations of the Commemorative Works ActMoreover, the sculptural or commemorative elements that S. 2097 proposes would so alter the existing District of Columbia War Memorial - in both its purpose and design - that the result would be, in effect, the creation of a new memorial.

This legislation exempts this proposal from key provisions which are at the heart of the Commemorative Works Act.Section 8908 of the Act precludes the addition of new memorials in the Reserve, the great cross-axis of the Mall, which generally extends from the United States Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, and from the White House to the Jefferson Memorial.Section 8905 of the Act requires the site and design for a new memorial be developed in a public process, first obtaining the advice of the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission, and then obtaining approvals by the National Capital Planning Commission and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.

Veterans of World War I are honored at the General John J. Pershing Park, which is a national World War I Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue.Pershing Park, located in the center of Pennsylvania Avenue, between 14th and 15th Streets, was built by the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation and includes a statue of General Pershing, as well as artwork detailing the major battles in World War I that involved U.S. troops.This commemorative work represents all who served in that conflict.Quotations on this existing World War I Veterans Memorial include General Pershing's tribute to the officers and men of the American Expeditionary Forces of World War I and a commemoration of those who served in the United States Navy in World War I.Veterans of World War I are also honored on the Mall near the White House by the 1st Division and 2nd Division Memorials.

The Department appreciates the interest in improving the conditions at the District of Columbia War Memorial.While, as with other memorials, this memorial receives routine maintenance, the National Park Service has recognized it needs comprehensive attention.Open mortar joints and failed metal flashings have allowed water infiltration into the brick, terra cotta tile, and marble.Marble displacement, spalling, and cracking have also occurred.

The character of the Memorial's grounds has also changed. The Memorial grove is now a mix of hardwoods, evergreens, understory plantings, and non-native plants, altering the intended character of the open grove. The bluestone paving is severely deteriorated and broken from vehicular use.

As a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, $7.3 million has been set aside for an extensive three-stage project to restore and rehabilitate the Memorial and grounds.First, stone conservators are conducting tests to determine the best methods for cleaning and removing general and biological soiling, stains, and old paint to restore the Memorial to an appearance consistent with the structure's age and material character.Corrections to the built-in gutter and drainage systems will also be made to help eliminate moisture infiltration and the associated staining and spalling.

Second, the project will restore the original planting plan, re-establishing the 50-foot open lawn around the Memorial, set within a grove of trees.

Third, the current deteriorated condition of the surrounding stone plaza and walkways will be rehabilitated with thicker, more durable stone paving and the walkways widened from eight feet to ten feet to address contemporary use.

The National Park Service received approval for this restoration and rehabilitation project from the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts on September 17, 2009, and from the National Capital Planning Commission on September 24, 2009.Final design, as well as final approvals from both Commissions, is expected to be complete this spring, with the rehabilitation expected to be complete by September 30, 2012.

As the District of Columbia World War I Memorial is dedicated to, and was built with funds from the citizens of the District of Columbia, any modification to rededicate it and turn this local memorial into a national memorial would run counter to the letter and spirit of its original authorization and to the intent of the Commemorative Works Act. Rather than making exceptions to the Commemorative Works Act and setting this precedent -- superimposing a new memorial over an existing one, the Department believes that greater recognition could be given to studying opportunities to improve upon the national World War I Memorial in Pershing Park, in accordance with the Commemorative Works Act. .The Department believes that the memorial in Pershing Park could be given an even greater national stature, without impinging on the Commemorative Works Act.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks. I would be happy to answer any questions that you or any other members of the subcommittee may have.