|An aerial view of the FDR Memorial, |
looking north. Photo by Steve Amiaga,
FDR Four Freedoms Park Conservancy.
The memorial’s history dates back to the late 1960’s, when Mayor Lindsay, with the New York State Urban Development Corporation, proposed redeveloping the narrow island in the East River, then called Welfare Island, into a residential community. In 1970, the Four Freedoms Foundation began talks with the city and state about a memorial for FDR . A New York Times editorial promoted the proposed name and location: “A plaza promenade and statue could be created at the southern end of Franklin D. Roosevelt island. It would face the sea he loved, the Atlantic he bridged, the Europe he helped to save, and the United Nations he inspired.”
Three years later, Mayor Lindsay presided over the island’s renaming ceremony at the park’s future location. Louis Kahn was introduced as architect for the project and presented a model of the design. Funding was to come in equal parts from the state, city and private funding. Kahn described his design for the park as “a Room and a Garden.” The Room would be a large space at the southern tip of the island, partially enclosed by massive granite blocks that focused a view south. Kahn began the memorial with a 100-foot wide staircase, creating a hill at the northern end of the monument from which visitors would decend as they proceeded through the garden to the room.
A perfect storm of events led to the shelving of the Four Freedoms Park project for three decades. Governor Nelson Rockefeller, a key supporter, left office to become Vice President under the Ford Administration. Louis Kahn died of a heart attack in Penn Station while carrying the completed designs. Finally, New York City’s near-bankruptcy knocked out political support of the project.
The Four Freedoms Foundation and other key supporters never gave up on the idea. Kahn’s designs were kept with Mitchell/ Giurgola Architects. A video produced in 1980 and narrated by Orson Welles served to keep the vision alive. A bipartisan commission established by Governor Mario Cuomo unanimously recommended the project be built in 1985, but it took another six years before earth was moved. Between 1991- 1994, the seawall was stabilized and the ground was cleared, compacted and shaped as specified in Kahn’s designs.
|Kahn’s design uses the triangular shape of the park’s site to |
draw focus to the Roosevelt statue at entrance of the ‘Room.’
Political support would again diminish with power shifts in Albany, freezing progress to the site for another 16 years, but enthusiastic supporters kept the project alive. A 2003 documentary by Kahn’s son, Nathaniel, helped to reinvigorate interest in the project. Two years later, Cooper Union held an exhibition on the history of Four Freedoms Park; Ambassador William vanden Heuvel committed his Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute to fundraising. The next year, seed money from Alphawood Foundation Chicago funded office operations. The executive director, Gina Pollara, worked on scoping drawings and obtaining the many permits required to build. Ambassador vanden Heuvel continued looking for funding in the private sector, along with Sally Minard, who came to the project in 2005. She recalls those crucial years of numerous applications for permits as very difficult for the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy. “The reason there aren’t many shovel-ready projects is because most developers rarely want to invest money upfront until they know the permits will be given,” Minard said in a phone interview. Mayor Bloomberg advised that the project be split into three phases. The first would build the Room, the second the Promenade, and last phase would build the grand stair and fill in the lawn and trees.
Actually building the memorial was also daunting. 7,700 tons of granite were quarried in North Carolina, as specified by Kahn. The monumental stones were too heavy to be trucked over the single bridge to the island, so were floated to the site by barge. Five different types of cranes and 100 stone setters were needed to set the stones in place.
The park was built for $44 million, but fundraising is not over. The Four Freedoms Park Conservancy, a 501c3 NY State Corporation is responsible for funding and maintenance with a full operations staff. The estimated budget is $2 million annually. Free public tours are given each week. The park recently hosted events such as yoga in the park, a kite-making workshop and has others planned. Revenue streams include souvenirs, and a food vendor operation is currently being tested.
To read the complete fall 2013 issue of CIVITAS News, visit http://civitasnyc.org/civitas-newsletters/