Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial was designed by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin and completed in 1997. It is part of the National Park Service, which is quite fitting as FDR referenced the importance of national parks to the enrichment of the citizens and country of America in a 1936 speech. It is comprised of four outdoor rooms, ten bronze statues, and various water features covering 7.5 acres. It is the first memorial in Washington, D.C. to be designed as fully wheelchair accessible.
Backstory and Context
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president four times and served from 1933 until 1945. He helped pull the United States through the Great Depression with the New Deal and navigated the political and military turmoil of World War II. This memorial at the National Mall is part of the National Park Service and is actually the second memorial dedicated to him. The first is a simple, small marble slab, just as Roosevelt had wanted. The larger of the two covers 7.5 acres and was designed by landscape architect, Lawrence Halprin. It is designed as four outdoor rooms, all engraved with quotes from FDR. In the spaces are ten bronze statues depicting FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, and even his dog, Fala. The inclusion of Fala is unique as it is the only memorial at the National Mall to also memorialize a dog.1 The memorial was completed in 1997 and is the first in Washington, D.C. to be designed as fully wheelchair accessible.2
The FDR Memorial stands on land created out of the sediment of the Potomac River. In the late 1800s the river channel was altered by the US Army Corps of Engineers and made to be narrower and deeper. Parks were created on the east and west side of the Potomac from the dredged river bottom. It is no accident that water is integral to Roosevelt’s memorial, as he spent much of his childhood near the Hudson River and also served as the Assistant Secretary to the Navy in WWI. The waterfalls and pools integrated into the design are a nod to his past as well as a method of drowning out the surrounding city and airport noise.3
The memorial today is slightly different from Halprin’s original 1997 design. In 2001, a statue of FDR seated in a wheelchair was added after a push from the National Organization of Disability. FDR was diagnosed with polio in 1921 and soon the disease caused his legs to be paralyzed. He was very careful to not be seen in public in a wheelchair because he felt it made him look vulnerable and less able to command a great country. Halprin did not include this depiction at first because he knew that was a secret FDR held close and therefore he did not want to immortalize that aspect of his story.4
Perhaps not by accident, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is the largest of the presidential memorials, commemorating the man who served as president the longest in the history of the nation.