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A Memorial to FDR, a Tribute to Louis Kahn

Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York City was dedicated this morning—nearly 40 years after it was designed by architect Louis I. Kahn.

By Beth Broome
October 17, 2012
© Beth Broome
Former President Bill Clinton speaking at the dedication of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York City on Tuesday.

The long-awaited Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York City was dedicated this morning—nearly 40 years after it was designed by architect Louis I. Kahn.

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With an autumnal snap in the air and a brilliant blue sky as a backdrop, the audience enjoyed the event full of pomp and circumstance and presided over by master of ceremonies Tom Brokaw. In attendance were scores of dignitaries and representatives on the national, state, and city levels, as well as members of the Roosevelt family, including grandchildren and great grandchildren of Eleanor Roosevelt. Also present were the children of Louis Kahn: Sue Ann Kahn, Alexandra Tyng, and Nathaniel Kahn—creator of the award-winning documentary, My Architect.

All of the speeches reflected on Roosevelt’s famous Four Freedoms Speech—in which he articulated four essential human freedoms: the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom to worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear. Addressing the crowd, former President Bill Clinton compared this dedication to that of the FDR memorial in Washington at which he spoke in 1997, when the country was in “different circumstances: The cold war won, unemployment low, the economy booming.” The future looked so bright then that it almost seemed the two additional freedoms—from want and from fear—could “be relegated to history, fully achieved,” he said. “Perhaps, ironically,” he continued, “it is altogether fitting that this day was delayed until a time when we knew that we could never take the Four Freedoms for granted.”

“This park is destined to be a national treasure,” declared Mayor Michael Bloomberg from the lectern. “It is my hope that all of those who visit this new park will be inspired to take up the challenge President Roosevelt left for us of securing and protecting these Four Freedoms. It is a mission that lies at the heart of our city’s history.”

“It is fitting that this beautiful memorial lies at the entrance to this great state,” announced Governor Andrew Cuomo, “because the state of New York and FDR have a powerful connection: New York (of which FDR was governor from 1929-1932) was the incubator and demonstrator of FDR’s philosophy and vision.” Referring to his father, Governor Mario Cuomo, and his role in helping reenergize the FDR memorial’s development in the 1980s, Cuomo announced his intention to establish this site as a state park—New York’s 214th. “This memorial is also a tribute to Louis Kahn and his vision,” he went on. “He could design a memorial, it could lay dormant for years and years, be picked up and be just as vital and current as the day he drew it.”

Ambassador William vanden Heuvel, longtime champion of the memorial, spoke last, thanking the men and women who built the park, “the construction workers who placed 261,000 cobblestones, who moved the 36-ton granite blocks, who created and placed the colossal bust of FDR,” he said. “This was more than a job. It became a privilege for each of us—not without exasperation, not without frustration, not without disappointment (the New York Times yesterday reported on a legal dispute over how foundations that gave money would be acknowledged on the site). “But on those days,” he went on, “I remembered the wisdom of Franklin Roosevelt when he said, ‘when you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. And we did.’” 

Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park will open to the public on October 24.

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