At first glance, the Earnest W. McFarland and the American Dream Memorial is clear — it is a commemoration of Earnest McFarland’s life as an Arizona senator, governor and chief justice of the state Supreme Court.
But incorporated into the site are nuanced symbolisms that exemplify not only McFarland’s life, but also the visitors’, according to Don and Erik Ryden, the architects of the memorial.
“We wanted to not only memorialize Mac’s life, but your own life as well,” Erik said. “It’s about your own adventure, purpose and math, specifically in America.”
The goal of the memorial is to make McFarland’s life relevant to today’s citizens, “who may never have heard of the guy,” Don said.
Four layers are included in the design: introduction, interpretation, commemoration and inspiration.
The memorial features a chronological timeline within the signage, narrating McFarland’s life.
“When you see the signage, you can’t see the panels until you go by and look, which was somewhat a happy accident when we were playing with the geometry when we started designing the individual elements,” Erik said.
The panels are split into three sections, giving different types of visitors a chance to read what they like.
“We made it streamlined in three different levels,” Don said. “You get both strollers and studiers, so we specifically designed this that way — or you could just look at the pictures.”
Half of the memorial is designed with his life in mind: McFarland marries and has children. But when the visitor steps toward the center, a concrete scar runs through the memorial, marking the loss of his family.
“Early in his life, he thinks he’s set, but then his children dies, and so does his wife,” Erik said. “So his American dream ends here. Architecturally we represented that with a concrete scar that cuts through the memorial, since he misses that portion of his life.”
McFarland later picked himself up, Erik said, and began to see his own strife and struggles, becoming more empathetic. McFarland’s life as a public servant begins then, with goals to help farmers and fight for water rights — he enters Washington D.C. as a senator and continues, working as a governor and then a judge.
A plaque, engraved with a workhorse, then leads the way to the Gateway of Opportunity.
“This is the part where the memorial focuses on you,” Erik said. “You are inspired to reflect and focus on what your dreams are.”
People have commented that the gateway resembles organ pipes, something out of an old church, and an industrial expression of a saguaro cactus, Don said. The gateway was originally designed as a cylinder that was cut in half at an angle, he added.
Each year, on Oct. 9 — McFarland’s birthday — at 10 a.m., the sun shines through a slot of the gateway monument for a minute, lighting up a puck in the lawn.
“That’s when everything comes into alignment,” Don said.
The memorial is different from others around Wesley Bolin Memorial Park because most are only commemorations, Don said.
Since the McFarland’s memorial is located across from the Salute the Fallen memorial, a tribute to service members of World War II, Ryden Architects wanted to make sure the two monuments worked together.
The scale of McFarland’s memorial came from the Salute the Fallen memorial, Erik said, using its anchor and flagpole as a beginning point.
One panel of McFarland’s highlights one of his biggest legacies: the GI Bill.
“We wanted to express the multiplicity effect of this person setting up opportunities for veterans,” Erik said.
“Our nation is what it is today with his policies,” said John D. Lewis, McFarland’s grandson. “A lot of politicians today, they like to think about themselves. My grandfather was like, ‘We’ve got to get on this, I don’t care who gets the credit.’”
The bill provides benefits for World War II veterans including low-cost mortgages, business loans, college tuition, and unemployment compensation. The Arizona Capitol Music opened the McFarland/GI Bill Exhibit on Feb. 28, featuring interactive elements and more information about the impact of the GI Bill.
On March 5, a vehicle lost control and crashed in to the memorial. The memorial is scheduled to be fixed, Lewis said.
“My grandfather was quite the historical character,” Lewis said. “To build a monument about him and the things he lived for and did was really phenomenal.”
The Earnest W. McFarland and the American Dream Memorial is located in Wesley Bolin Plaza, 1700 W. Washington St. in Phoenix.
• Jenny Ung is a sophomore at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. She is interning this semester for the AFN.