After a couple of years of construction, the new World War I Memorial (formerly Pershing Park) has reopened.
The centerpiece of the memorial is a 65-foot long bronze relief depicting the life of a soldier during the war, from when he is deployed, gets wounded, and returns home at the end and passes his helmet to his daughter. The bronze relief won’t be finished until 2024 – it will contain 38 figures with an estimated time of 600 hours to complete each figure. Until the bronze relief is ready, a canvas with sketches covers its place.
At the other end of the park, General Pershing still presides, about to raise his binoculars to look over the field.
The park is a large open space, with the low walls still leaving open a view down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Some familiar features of the old Pershing Park remain in updated form, including lots of steps and the map and descriptive text near General Pershing.
There’s a large shallow pool that reflects the mural and the nearby Treasury building.
The water is an immediate attractor for young children.
Poppies, the symbol of the war, were displayed during the opening days of the memorial.
The memorial is also great to visit at night, with dramatic shadows and reflections.
World War I was the only major conflict from the recent past that has not had a memorial in D.C. As with most new memorials in D.C., there was lots of contention about almost everything, from where it was located to whether or not it was an accurate depiction of the war.
One of the most contentious features is the yet-to-be finished bronze relief. The architect of the new memorial, Joseph Weishaar, was just 25 when he won the design competition for the memorial, and the sculptor, Sabin Howard, had never done a work like this. Howard hired models and took 12,000 iPhone photos of them in his apartment in the Bronx, and used his young daughter as the model for the daughter at the end of the mural. Howard has said “Neither one of us was ready. It is just insanity.” Weishaar’s winning design focused around this bronze relief because he wanted to have something that visitors could touch and get connected to the war by feeling the images. The relief will be the longest free-standing bronze relief in the Western Hemisphere.
The visitors to the park in the first days of the opening seemed to like the new space, and the openness of it makes a great complement to the site on Pennsylvania Avenue. A large earth berm mitigates the sound of the traffic, so it forms a bit of oasis in the city.