After decades of discussion, work begins on FDR memorial

October 11, 1994|By Cox News Service

Half a century after Congress began discussing the idea, construction on a memorial to former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt began last week in the nation's capital.

Conceived in 1946, the year after Roosevelt died, the FDR Memorial is scheduled to open in 1996. It will be beside the Tidal Basin and near the Jefferson Memorial. The new memorial will also be only a short walk from the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument.

Designed by San Francisco architect Lawrence Halperin, the memorial will feature four outdoor galleries representing FDR's four terms in office and marking the momentous events of his time in office: the Great Depression, the New Deal and World War II.

The $52 million memorial's natural landscaping will include paths, waterfalls, sculpture and quotations carved into granite walls. This will also be the first presidential memorial to honor a first lady. The wooded, 7.5-acre grounds will include a bronze statue of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Although Roosevelt is widely considered the most influential president of the 20th century, debates over design and funding delayed his monument for decades. The initial resolution to build an FDR memorial was introduced in Congress in 1946.

"Evidently, these heroic monuments take heroic efforts," said Dorann H. Gunderson, executive director of the FDR Memorial Commission, set up by Congress in 1955. "When they were planning the Lincoln Memorial, the debate over whether he should stand or whether he should sit went on for years."

Roosevelt, the only four-term president, once said he wanted a memorial no larger than his desk. However, the congressional movement for a much larger monument began shortly after the funeral train carried his body back to Washington past thousands of citizens standing by the tracks to pay their last respects.

In 1955, Congress established the commission to oversee the design, funding and construction of an FDR memorial, and four years later the current site was selected.

Progress was glacial, however, as debate dragged on over what the memorial should look like and how much it should cost.

In 1969, President Lyndon B. Johnson designated 27 acres beside the Tidal Basin as the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Park. Afterward, the FDR Commission decided that, rather than a "monumental" monument, the memorial should fit into the surrounding parkland.

Congress has appropriated about $36 million for the memorial, and another $5.5 million is included in President Clinton's budget for fiscal 1995.

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