It took almost seven decades from the end of World War II to honor the man considered by many to be one of the greatest presidents this nation has ever elected. But it did happen last week when President Bill Clinton joined Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and project director Ambassador William J. vanden Heuvel, to remember Franklin Delano Roosevelt with a memorial park named after him.
The dedication of The Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park was held on Wednesday October 17. The park sits on a triangular piece of land at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island in The East River. The park directly faces the United Nations. Featured guest speakers included the aforementioned dignitaries, with Tom Brokaw serving as Master of Ceremonies. Also present were New York’s First Lady Matilda Cuomo, Former Governor David Paterson, Former Mayor David Dinkins, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Council Member Jessica Lapin.
This is New York State’s first Memorial to President Roosevelt and celebrates his enduring world vision. The memorial was created and developed by the iconic world architect, Louis I. Kahn. The park itself was nearly 40 years in the making since announced by then New York City Mayor John V. Lindsey. The completion of this park is the realization of a dream held by many people. The design follows Louis Kahn’s original plans, but his untimely death in 1974 and financial difficulties suffered by New York City, put off the construction of the project until 2005. That year a group of citizens organized themselves to renew the project.
Many regard FDR as the greatest President of the 20th Century. “President Roosevelt was one of this nation’s most fearless and visionary leaders, and this park is a tribute to his legacy,” said President Clinton. “I am proud to honor this President and his ideas, which have done so much for our nation and our world.”
“President Roosevelt guided this nation through the Great Depression, and World War II. He was committed to ending the horrific crimes of the Holocaust and seek out and punish those offenders who didn’t respect the lives, the freedoms and religions of others,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
FDR Four Freedoms Park is a monument to a great leader and our democratic ideals,” said New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg… “We look forward to New Yorkers and visitors enjoying the Park’s beauty and celebrating the legacy of President Roosevelt.”
This park celebrates the four essential freedoms that were his vision for a better world, a world committed to democracy. In his famous 1941 State of the Union address, he spoke of The Four Freedoms; Freedom of Speech and Expression, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear.
A large “Room,” the major feature of the park, overlooks the East River. This room is enclosed by granite blocks, each weighing 36 tons and placed one inch apart. This way, visitors can view the city and the river beyond. Mounted at the entrance to the “Room” is a 1000 pound bronze portrait of President Roosevelt, created in 1933 by the American sculptor Jo Davidson. Facing the sculpture are President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, inscribed in the wall of granite by the stone carver Nicholas Benson.
Visitors to the FDR Memorial Park facing the wall of granite carved with the Four Freedoms will experience a beautiful sight combining the visionary words of FDR and the United Nations Building standing just beyond the granite wall across the East River. Roosevelt was also credited with inspiring the creation of the United Nations. [Editor’s note: In his defense, though, President Roosevelt probably had no way of knowing the anti-Semitic, ineffectively bureaucratic mess it would eventually devolve into.]
How appropriate that this park is dedicated to a man whose vision of democracy and whose strong belief in the Four Freedoms, freedoms and rights belonging to all, should be dedicated during a time of such upheaval on the global geopolitical stage. Indeed, the poignancy of FDR’s words may strike a chord with people now more than ever.