Unlike the Martin Luther King Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is powerful, inspiring, and sad. It breaks my heart to read the quotes inscribed on the rock walls because they are as pertinent today as when he said them seventy to eighty years ago.
At the entrance to the memorial is FDR seated in a wheelchair. Behind him is a quote from his wife Eleanor: “Franklin’s illness…gave him strength and courage he had not had before. He learned to think out the fundamentals of living and learn the greatest of all lessons, infinite patience and never-ending persistence.” Amazingly, this section of the memorial was not part of the original design. It was added later after vigorous lobbying by those who are disabled even though FDR never wanted to be photographed in his wheelchair.
Laurence Halprin’s design uses monolithic pieces of stone and waterfalls to evoke the power of the presidency and the greatness of this presidency in particular. One of the waterfalls is next to a quote about what the Tennessee Valley Authority would accomplish. In the small plaza in front of this waterfall are round pillars embossed with reliefs of the plants and marine animals that were lost in the building of the dams.
There are also some amazing sculptures that capture the despair of the Depression. One is of a man hunched in a chair near the radio which, other than movies, was the main vehicle of communication in the 1930’s. FDR gave many speeches on the radio to try to lift the spirits of the unemployed and the poor, a category into which many of the middle class had fallen.
Another sculpture is of a standing man and a seated woman outside their cabin while
a third is of an unemployment line. In between these two sculptures is this quote: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
Adjacent to another waterfall are huge pieces of broken stone that symbolize the destruction of war. On the wall behind is another quote from FDR: “I have seen war. I hate war.” This quote was even more meaningful to me because I recently saw a production of Warhorse, a powerful play about the futility and destruction of war.
The landscaping at this memorial is very simple and never detracts from the power of the rock, water, and inscriptions. Instead it often takes your eye from the ground, the realm of man to the sky, perhaps the realm of inspiration.