On this date in 1970, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial was formally dedicated on what would have been his eightieth birthday in the park at the base of the Seal Beach pier after a short parade down Main Street to the dedication site.
The former president had passed away the previous year on March 28th, and park itself also served as a memorial for the thirty-fourth president by being named “Eisenhower Park” by unanimous vote by the Seal Beach city council on August 4, 1969.
Mrs. Frank Clinton, president of the Seal Beach Republican Women’s Club, the organization that sponsored the memorial, acted as master of ceremonies to a crowd of over a thousand people that overflowed beyond the capacity of the temporary grandstand erected on Ocean Avenue.
Seal Beach Mayor Pro Tem Harold Holden, standing in for absent Mayor Mort Baum, formally proclaimed the date as “Dwight D. Eisenhower Day.”
The Eisenhower family was represented by David Eisenhower, the former president’s 22-year grandson and son-in-law of current president, Richard Nixon.
“The Eisenhower family is grateful for the dedication of this memorial, and I personally am grateful,” he told the audience. “This dedication has taught me that I was very fortunate in having known this man, and I am glad that so many others have known him.”
The president’s grandson was not the only speaker with a personal connection to Dwight Eisenhower.
The invocation and benediction was given by Dr. Dean Miller, pastor of the church the Eisenhower family had attended in Palm Desert.
California State Treasurer Ivy Baker Priest spoke of her time serving as U.S. Treasurer in the Eisenhower Administration.
“His administrative genius, the great devotion to duty and his ability to keep people working together is well known, but his humanness, his personal warmth, and his love of all people were qualities I was privileged to know to a greater degree than most.”
Rear Admiral Robert Salazar described Eisenhower’s military career for the crowd.
Rounding off the program was the J.H. McGaugh Intermediate School band providing music with vocals by the Marina High School Mariners.
The highlight of the event was the unveiling of the memorial itself by the current Miss Seal Beach, Jill Shelton and Jack Olsteen, director of parks. The memorial was a sand painting portrait of President Eisenhower created by artist David Villasenor (1913-1987) with sands from each state in the United States.
Born in Guadalajara, Villasenor came to the U.S. when he was sixteen and lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he learned the physical craft and spiritual symbolism of sand painting from local Navajos. Sand painting was usually a temporary creation done on the ground and usually lasting barely a day.
(I had the personal privilege to witness Villasenor create a sand painting by this method using only natural colors from materials like sulphur and garnet on a school field trip in 1978. It was enthralling to watch.)
Villasenor discovered a method to mount and preserve his sand painting, and his works have been displayed in the Southwest Museum, the Plaza de la Raza, and the Los Angeles County of Natural History. He also taught and wrote books on sand painting and Indian symbols.
A visit to Eisenhower Park today will reveal no sand painting memorial to Dwight Eisenhower. In the one single instance of sand erosion in Seal Beach not due to high tides, the moist sea air and outdoor elements weakened the lacquer preserving the sand portrait of Eisenhower and it began to crumble. At some point a second portrait by another artist was substituted, but now even that is gone.
– Michael Dobkins
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