The Visionary Architect of the USS Arizona Memorial

June 12, 2017

There are many well-known names associated with Pearl Harbor. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who gave the famous "Infamy" speech to the US Congress the day after the attack. Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, the man widely blamed for the lack of preparedness that allowed the Japanese to take the naval base completely by surprise. Others are less-well-known, like Alfred Preis, the architect of the USS Arizona Memorial.

The USS Arizona (BB-39)was just like the seven other battleships lined up at Battleship Row on the morning of December 7, 1941, but by the end of the two-hour attack, she would be the ship that suffered the greatest loss, the ship that would become a symbol of the attack itself, of the heroism of the sailors who fought to survive, and of the American tenacity that kept the nation going even after over 2,400 Americans were lost.

Sunk to the bottom of the harbor, the USS Arizona is immortalized in American history as the biggest single loss during the first strike on American forces in World War II.

Alfred Preis: The Architect of the USS Arizona Memorial

Born and raised in Vienna, Austria, Alfred Preis spent his earliest years as an architect studying at the Vienna Technical University, never once stopping to consider the contribution he would eventually make to American history. If not for the actions of the Nazi regime and the threats made on Austria in the run-up to World War II, the young architect would never have had to flee his home country, but with the future of Austria uncertain, he enlisted the help of the Catholic Refugee Association and fled to the United States.

His welcome wasn't a particularly warm one, spending three months spent interned in Hawaii’s Sand Island Detainment Camp, a direct result of the December 7th, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Little did Alfred Preis know, the cause for his brief internment would later connect to the very thing he would become known for.

The Memorial

Sign announcing the construction of the USS Arizona Memorial; Alfred Preis was the architect

Construction of the USS Arizona Memorial

The destruction and loss of the USS Arizona and her crew weighed heavy on the American people, especially those who lived and worked around Pearl Harbor. There had never before been such an attack on American soil, and the fact that the vessel was still at the bottom of the harbor, visible to anyone who came near, ensured the memory of the attack and those lost would never be lost.

Ensuring that its memory wouldn’t fade, it only seemed fitting that the Arizona would receive a memorial that displayed everything the sunken vessel stood for. Dedicated in 1962, the memorial built over the Arizona became Preis's greatest work of art, though early criticism didn’t quite get the message he conveyed.

The unique design, the sagging center and the uplifted ends, represent the stages of the nation’s mindset with the lowest point being a feeling of defeat and loss felt from the Pearl Harbor attack. The two higher ends that flank the slump represent American pride and ultimate victory.

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