Description of Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

The Prologue Room

 
 

Arriving at the west end of the Franklin Delano Memorial from West Basin Drive, one enters the paved entrance plaza. Zelcova trees shade the plaza. Straight ahead is a wall of large stone blocks stacked four rows high. Three lines of inscription on the wall reads:

FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
1933 – 1945

(Note: All inscriptions in the memorial were done by stone carver John Benson)

A stone building located on the left side of the plaza (north side) faces the plaza. On the right side of the plaza, one sees a life-sized statue, created by sculptor Robert Graham, of FDR sitting in a wheelchair. Surrounded by walls on two sides, a grove of zelkova trees on a third side, the statue draws visitors towards him on the open side. There is an inscription, PROLOGUE, on the pavement in front of FDR. On the wall behind the statue is an inscription of a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: “FRANKLIN’S ILLNESS … GAVE HIM STRENGTH AND COURAGE HE HAD NOT HAD BEFORE. HE HAD TO THINK OUT THE FUNDAMENTALS OF LIVING AND LEARN THE GREATEST OF ALL LESSONS – INFINITE PATIENCE AND NEVER-ENDING PERSISTENCE.” (Below the quote is the quote in braille symbols, but at a size too large to be read by those who can read braille.) The 4 rectangular stone benches placed around the statue and FDR’s gaze seem to be a welcoming invitation for visitors to join him. The statue is across from the entrance doors of the building and he is looking in that direction, as if to remind visitors to stop in at the building before proceeding to the main part of the memorial.

Entering the building, visitors find themselves in a lobby that contains information about FDR, the design of the memorial, and a listing of people important in the process of establishing the memorial. Information and photos about FDR are displayed on the largest wall section in the lobby under categories “A Vision for the Future, A Nation at War, A Nation Listens, and The New Deal.” More importantly, however, is a sketch above the information. The sketch is the design concept created by landscape architect, Lawrence Halprin, that became the winning entry in the design competition. It orients visitors as to how the memorial is laid out. The design shows four open air rooms, one for each term of FDR’s presidency, proceeding from west to east, starting just beyond the aforementioned wall that people see straight ahead when first entering the plaza. In essence, the memorial is taking visitors on a journey of FDR’s presidency, not his whole life. Visitors might note one thing that is not shown on the drawing, the Prologue area where the FDR wheelchair statue is located. Last, but not least, an item is displayed in the interpretive area. It is a replica of the wheelchair that FDR created for himself to be able to more easily move around. It is also the chair represented in the sculpture across the plaza.

A locked door at the back of the interpretive area leads to a staff breakroom. Adjacent to the lobby is a bookstore offering selections regarding topics related to the memorial. On the opposite side of the building, facing the Tidal Basin, are visitor restrooms. There is also a locked door that provides access to the staff breakroom. Stone benches, a water fountain, and trash cans are conveniently located outside the restrooms.

Finally, a last note about the entrance plaza. There are 13 granite benches and 3 granite trash receptacles located between the Prologue area and the Information/Bookstore building. It provides a perfect opportunity for groups to assemble before entering the main portion of the memorial, for visitors to wait while others in their party utilize the building for any of its various components, or simply to rest for a moment or two.

 

First Term Room

 
 

Etched into the pavement at the entry is FIRST TERM 1933-1937. On the wall to the right is a bronze sculpture, “Presidential Seal”, done by Tom Hardy.


Inscriptions on the walls:


“THIS GENERATION OF AMERICANS HAS A RENDEZVOUS WITH DESTINY.”

“I PLEDGE YOU, I PLEDGE MYSELF, TO A NEW DEAL FOR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE.”

“NO COUNTRY, HOWEVER RICH, CAN AFFORD THE WASTE OF ITS HUMAN RESOURCES. DEMORALIZATION CAUSED BY VAST UNEMPLOYMENT IS OUR GREATEST EXTRAVAGANCE. MORALLY, IT IS THE GREATEST MENACE TO OUR SOCIAL ORDER.”

“MEN AND NATURE MUST WORK HAND IN HAND. THE THROWING OUT OF BALANCE OF THE RESOURCES OF NATURE THROWS OUT OF BALANCE ALSO THE LIVES OF MEN.”

“IN THESE DAYS OF DIFFICULTY, WE AMERICANS EVERYWHERE MUST AND SHALL CHOOSE THE PATH OF SOCIAL JUSTICE … THE PATH OF FAITH , THE PATH OF HOPE, AND THE PATH OF LOVE TOWARD OUR FELLOW MAN.”

“THE ONLY THING WE HAVE TO FEAR IS FEAR ITSELF.”

Below this quote is a bronze bas-relief, sculpted by Robert Graham, depicting FDR being driven away from his 1st inauguration. The image appears out of focus, except for FDR, who is the center of attention.

A main feature of this room is the large fountain. When the water is turned on, it cascades from the top straight to the bottom, ending in turbulence.

When standing a few feet away from the front of the fountain, if one turns 90 degrees to the left, there is a nice view of the Washington Monument, to the north of the Tidal Basin.

This room provides access to the Tidal Basin walkway via a set of handrailed stairs and/or a wheelchair accessible paved pathway, marked by signage.

There are five granite benches in this room, as well as six wooden benches along the wheelchair accessible path.As visitors leave the 1st term room, via the passageway towards the 2nd term room, there is an inscription on the wall:

“AMONG AMERICAN CITIZENS, THERE SHOULD BE NO FORGOTTEN MEN AND NO FORGOTTEN RACES.”

At the same time the view of the city on the far side of the Tidal Basin disappears. Ornamental flowering cherry trees combine with other trees and shrubs to form a dense green wall on the left side (north side) of the walkway. Stone walls to the right of the walkway give way to a grassy berm, trees and shrubs. From one end of the memorial to the other, the athletic fields and Potomac River that lie on the south side of the memorial are blocked from view, with one exception, that occurs in Room 2.

As throughout the memorial there is ample opportunity for anyone who wishes to stop and sit for a moment or two, because of the 12 stone benches along the passageway.

Visitors pass by a small fountain prior to the end of the passageway, just before entering Room 2. If one looks closely, they will notice that the design of the fountain contains elements of both the large fountain in Room 1 and the large fountain seen straight ahead in Room 2.
 

Second Term Room

 
 

Visitors entering Room Two are greeted by the inscription SECOND TERM 1937-1941 carved into the pavement. Visitors will discover that Room Two is divided into two halves by a wall. There are two sculptures straight ahead on the wall in the first half. “Appalachian Couple” and “The Breadline”, both created by sculptor George Segal, clearly depict the troubling times faced by both urban and rural communities during the Depression and the Dust Bowl.

INSCRIPTIONS:

"I SEE ONE-THIRD OF A NATION ILL-HOUSED, ILL-CLAD, ILL- NOURISHED.”


“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.”


To the right of both those works is a third sculpture, also by George Segal. “Fireside Chat”, set in an alcove, shows how FDR often communicated to the American people. It’s a reminder that his radio broadcasts were intended to inform Americans that his administration was working for them to solve the problems facing the nation.

INSCRIPTION:

“I NEVER FORGET THAT I LIVE IN A HOUSE OWNED BY ALL THE AMERICAN PEOPLE AND THAT I HAVE BEEN GIVEN THEIR TRUST.”

Entering the second half of Room 2, visitors see three things. First, in the large fountain straight ahead water flows down over a set of four steps. Halprin uses subliminal messages to reinforce the importance of the only four-term president and the fourth presidential memorial in Washington, DC. Stone walls are four rows high and the four steps of the fountain.

INSCRIPTION:

“IT IS TIME TO EXTEND PLANNING TO A WIDER FIELD, IN THIS INSTANCE COMPREHENDING IN ONE GREAT PROJECT MANY STATES DIRECTLY CONCERNED WITH THE BASIN OF ONE OF OUR GREATEST RIVERS. TENNESSEE VALLEY AUTHORITY”

Turning around, visitors see the five-panel mural that occupies the back of the wall dividing Room Two into two halves. They also see the five columns that they may deduct tie in somehow with the five panels of the mural. “Social Programs” was created by Robert Graham. Confusing to most visitors are the squares depicting people involved in some kind of activity, the human body parts coming out from the bronze panels, the acronyms, the Braille symbols. The key to unlocking the mystery starts when they discover the list of New Deal programs on the bottom right corner of the left panel and realize that the figures on the columns are reverse of the ones on the mural panels and represent the idea of rolling out programs to create a positive effect on the economy.

The third important element is the 30 foot wide section of fence that gives visitors a view to what lies outside the stone walls and berms. The open aspect created by the fence, similar to what a window does, combined with the lack of a tree canopy overhead seems to make this space brighter than anywhere else in the memorial. The actions taken by the administration would hopefully do the same for the country.

INSCRIPTION:

“I PROPOSE TO CREATE A CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS TO BE USED IN SIMPLE WORK … MORE IMPORTANT, HOWEVER, THAN THE MATERIAL GAINS WILL BE THE MORAL AND SPIRITUAL VALUE OF SUCH WORK.”

As visitors leave the space and move forward along the passageway, another green berm replaces stone wall. Before reaching the 3rd term room, another small fountain is encountered, again combining elements of the large fountains in Room 2 and Room 3.


INSCRIPTION:

“WE MUST SCRUPULOUSLY GUARD THE CIVIL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES OF ALL OUR CITIZENS, WHATEVER THEIR BACKGROUND. WE MUST REMEMBER THAT ANY OPPRESSION, ANY INJUSTICE, ANY HATRED, IS A WEDGE DESIGNED TO ATTACK OUR CIVILIZATION.”


Along the way, Room Two and its passageway have provided visitors with 14 more stone benches to use, if they so choose.

 

Third Term Room

 
 

THIRD TERM 1941-1945 etched into the pavement.


“WE MUST BE THE GREAT ARSENAL OF DEMOCRACY.”

Visitors encounter two separate jumbles of big linear stones. The one to the left consists of 12 stones. The one to the right consists of five stones. On the wall next to the jumble of five:

INSCRIPTION:


“I HAVE SEEN WAR. I HAVE SEEN WAR ON LAND AND SEA. I HAVE SEEN BLOOD RUNNING FROM THE WOUNDED … I HAVE SEEN THE DEAD IN THE MUD. I HAVE SEEN CITIES DESTROYED … I HAVE SEEN CHILDREN STARVING. I HAVE SEEN THE AGONY OF MOTHERS AND WIVES. I HATE WAR.”

Each of the jumbles has a stone on which I HAVE is etched and a stone on which WAR is etched.


The large fountain is in a state of disorder. Stones are displaced. Some are in the water. Some are randomly around the perimeter. Water spews in different directions. It’s as if the fountain has been bombed.


Just beyond the two jumbles of stones and the fountain, is an alcove. There sits a larger than life statue of FDR wearing a cloak, portrayed in one of his favorite chairs at Hyde Park, New York. Hidden from view are the wheels on the chair located on the back. The wheels are there, if one looks. Just as FDR hid his disability due to polio, Halprin wanted to make sure the disability was hidden from visitors to the memorial. Accessibility advocates had lobbied during the design process for the statue of FDR statue to be shown in a wheelchair. Halprin, however, was a big fan of FDR and thus wanted to hold true to what FDR did during his presidency, hiding his disability. Accessibility groups continued to lobby even after the memorial was dedicated and won approval for a second statue of FDR, which is located in the Prologue Room. Next to the statue of FDR in Room Three is a statue of his dog, Fala, a Scottish terrier. Both bronze statues were sculpted by Neil Estern.


INSCRIPTION:

“THEY (WHO) SEEK TO ESTABLISH SYSTEMS OF GOVERNMENT BASED ON THE REGIMENTATION OF ALL HUMAN BEINGS BY A HANDFUL OF INDIVIDUAL RULERS … CALL THIS A NEW ORDER. IT IS NOT NEW AND IT IS NOT ORDER.”


“WE HAVE FAITH THAT FUTURE GENERATIONS WILL KNOW HERE, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, THERE CAM A TIME WHEN MEN OF GOOD WILL FOUND A WAY TO UNITE, AND PRODUCE, AND FIGHT TO DESTROY THE FORCES OF IGNORANCE, AND INTOLERANCE, AND SLAVERY, AND WAR.”


To the left of the statues of FDR and Fala is the largest stone above ground in the memorial. Measuring 30 feet long and six feet high, “the stone symbolizes the great power of the presidency; it evokes feelings of strength and fortitude” – Lawrence Halprin.

 

Fourth Term Room

 
 

Inscription FOURTH TERM 1945 etched into the pavement reflects that FDR died on April 12, 1945, shortly into his fourth term.


INSCRIPTION

“MORE THAN AN END TO WAR, WE WANT AN END TO THE BEGINNINGS OF ALL WARS.”

This quote was part of a speech that FDR had prepared to deliver on Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, April 13, 1945. FDR never gave the speech because he died the day before, in Warm Springs, Georgia.

Room Four consists of an upper level and a lower level. Entering Room Four, there is a paved ramp off to the right. At the bottom of the ramp, there is a bronze bas-relief entitled “Funeral Cortege.” Created by sculptor Leonard Baskin, it portrays a caisson pulled by horses, with FDR's casket, and a funeral procession. Below is a still pool of water.


INSCRIPTION:

“UNLESS THE PEACE THAT FOLLOWS RECOGNIZES THAT THE WHOLE WORLD IS ONE NEIGHBORHOOD AND DOES JUSTICE TO THE WHOLE HUMAN RACE, THE GERMS OF ANOTHER WORLD WAR WILL REMAIN AS A CONSTANT THREAT TO MANKIND.”

Leaving the “Funeral Cortage” is another ramp to the left and a handrailed stairs to the right. Turn the corner, a statue of Eleanor Roosevelt is standing, behind her head is an emblem of the United Nations with inscription below:

“ELEANOR ROOSEVELT, FIRST UNITED STATES DELEGATE TO THE UNITED NATIONS.”

To the left of her statue is a quote from her husband, the man who had been the driving force in creating the United Nations:

“THE STRUCTURE OF WORLD PEACE CANNOT BE THE WORK OF ONE MAN, OR ONE PARTY, OR ONE NATION … IT MUST BE A PEACE WHICH RESTS ON THE COOPERATIVE EFFORT OF THE WHOLE WORLD.”

On the lower level is a very large fountain to contemplate its design. At the end of the fountain is a ramp to the uper level.

INSCRIPTION:

“THE ONLY LIMIT TO OUR REALIZATION OF TOMORROW WILL BE OUR DOUBTS OF TODAY. LET US MOVE FORWARD WITH STRONG AND ACTIVE FAITH.”

There are two opportunities to leave the upper level in Room Four to get to the Tidal Basin walkway. Near the beginning of Room Four, there is a set of handrailed stairs and an accessible paved path. Near the end of Room Four, there is a similar option.

Room Four provides views of the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial and the Washington Monument. Walking through the FDR Memorial in an eastward direction, it is noticeable that the path follows the contour of the Tidal Basin and moves to the left. By the time one reaches the end of Room 4, if that movement leftward continued, it would lead straight to the Jefferson Memorial. That, of course, is only in theory, because the Tidal Basin separates the two.

Visitors often get so focused on looking at the fountain that they end up missing an interesting feature of Room 4. There is an elongated set of 5 stairs that connects the upper level to the lower level. It gives the look of an amphitheater, where one might sit to watch the big show of the impressive fountain. Etched on the middle three stairs is a biography of important events in FDR’s life:

“JANUARY 30, 1882, FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT BORN AT HYDE PARK, NEW YORK. 1905 MARRIES ANNA ELEANOR ROOSEVELT. 1921, STRICKEN WITH POLIOMYELITIS – HE NEVER AGAIN WALKED UNAIDED. 1928-1932, GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK."

"1932, PLEDGES “A NEW DEAL” FOR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. 1932, ELECTED THIRTY-SECOND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. 1933, DELIVERS FIRST FIRESIDE CHAT. 1936, RE-ELECTED TO SECOND TERM AS PRESIDENT. 1940, RE-ELECTED TO THIRD TERM AS PRESIDENT.”

“1941, DELIVERS FOUR FREEDOMS SPEECH. 1941, JAPAN ATTACKS PEARL HARBOR – WAR DECLARED. 1941, GERMANY AND JAPAN DECLARE WAR ON THE UNITED STATES. 1944, RE-ELECTED TO FOURTH TERM AS PRESIDENT. APRIL 12, 1945, DIES AT WARM SPRINGS, GEORGIA.”

There are seven stone blocks on the upper level, above the aforementioned steps, acting as a safety feature to help alert visitors of the change of levels of the curved steps.

As throughout the memorial, Room 4 provides plenty of places to sit, with 14 stone benches.

Before exiting Room 4, there is one last inscription:“FREEDOM OF SPEECH … FREEDOM OF WORSHIP … FREEDOM FROM WANT … FREEDOM OF FEAR”

Just beyond is an opportunity to use restrooms, before exiting the memorial completely.

Last updated: July 26, 2021

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