FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Engraved memorial wall, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Washington DC, USA
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For decades, three presidential monuments stood along the Tidal Basin in Washington as a reminder of America's past. In 1997 a fourth presidential monument was added—the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial.

The monument was over 40 years in the making. The U.S. Congress first established a commission to create a memorial to Roosevelt, the 32nd U.S. president, in 1955, 10 years after his death. Four years later, a location for the memorial was found. The memorial was to be located halfway between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, all overlooking along the Tidal Basin.

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The Design for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Washington
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Although several design competitions were held over the years, it wasn't until 1978 that a design was chosen. The commission chose Lawrence Halprin's memorial design, a 7 1/2-acre memorial that includes images and history representing both FDR himself and the era he lived in. With only a few changes, Halprin's design was built.

Unlike the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, which are compact, covered, and focused on a single statue of each president, the FDR memorial is vast and uncovered, and contains numerous statues, quotes, and waterfalls.

Halprin's design honors FDR by telling the story of the president and the country in chronological order. Since Roosevelt was elected to four terms of office, Halprin created four "rooms" to represent the 12 years of Roosevelt's presidency. The rooms, however, are not defined by walls and the monument could perhaps better be described as a long, meandering path, bordered by walls made of red South Dakota granite.

Since FDR brought the United States through the Great Depression and World War II, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, dedicated on May 2, 1997, now stands as a reminder of some of America's tougher times.

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Entrance to the FDR Memorial

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Washington DC
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Although visitors can access the FDR Memorial from several directions, since the memorial is organized chronologically, it is recommended that you begin your visit near this sign.

The large sign with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's name creates an imposing and strong entrance to the memorial. To the left of this wall sits the memorial's bookshop. The opening to the right of this wall is the entrance to the memorial. However, before you go farther, take a close look at the statue to the far right.

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Statue of FDR in a Wheelchair

FDR in his wheelchair
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This 10-foot bronze statue of FDR in a wheelchair caused a great deal of controversy. In 1920, more than a decade before he was elected president, FDR was struck by polio. Although he survived the illness, his legs remained paralyzed. Despite the fact that FDR often used a wheelchair in private, he hid his ailment from the public by using supports to help him stand.

When constructing the FDR Memorial, then, a debate arose whether to present FDR in a position that he had so diligently kept hidden from view. Yet his efforts to overcome his handicap well represented his determinism.

The wheelchair in this statue is similar to the one he used in life. It was added in 2001, as a monument to FDR as he truly lived.

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The First Waterfall

The President Slept Here
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Several waterfalls appear throughout this memorial. This one creates a beautiful sheet of water. In the winter, the water freezes—some say that the freeze makes the falls even more beautiful.

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View From Room 1 to Room 2

Boy at the top of stairs, FDR Memorial
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The FDR Memorial is very large, covering 7 1/2 acres. Every corner has some kind of display, statue, quote, or waterfall. This is a view of the walkway from Room 1 to Room 2.

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The Fireside Chat

Statue by George Segal of a citizen listening to one of President Roosevelt fireside chats at the Fr
Buyenlarge / Getty Images

"The Fireside Chat," a sculpture by the American pop artist George Segal, shows a man listening intently to one of FDR's radio broadcasts. To the right of the statue is a quote from one of Roosevelt's fireside chats: "I never forget that I live in a house owned by all the American people and that I have been given their trust."

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The Rural Couple

The FDR Memorial in Washington, DC
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On one wall, you will find two scenes. The one on the left is "The Rural Couple," another sculpture by George Segal.

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The Depression Breadline
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To the right, you will find "Breadline" (created by George Segal). The sorrowful faces of the life-size statues are a powerful expression of the times, showing the inactivity and troubles of everyday citizens during the Great Depression. Many visitors to the memorial pretend to stand in line to have their picture taken.

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USA, Washington DC, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
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In the middle of these two scenes is this quotation, one of the 21 quotes that can be found at the memorial. All the inscriptions at the FDR Memorial were carved by calligrapher and stone mason John Benson. The quote is from FDR's inaugural speech in 1937.

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The New Deal

FDR Memorial
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Walking around the wall, you will come into this open area with five tall pillars and a large mural, created by California sculptor Robert Graham, representing the New Deal, Roosevelt's program to help ordinary Americans recover from the Great Depression.

The five-paneled mural is a collage of various scenes and objects, including initials, faces, and hands; the images on the mural are inverted on the five columns.

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Waterfall in Room 2

A picture of the waterfall in Room 2 of the FDR Memorial in Washington D.C.
(Photo by Jennifer Rosenberg)

The waterfalls that are scattered throughout the FDR Memorial do not run as smoothly as the ones you meet in the beginning. These are smaller and the flow of water is broken by rocks or other structures. The noise from the waterfalls increases as you go on. Perhaps this represents the designer's suggestion of the beginning of "troubled waters." There will be even larger waterfalls in Room 3.

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Room 3: World War II

Engraved memorial wall, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Washington DC, USA
Panoramic Images / Getty Images

World War II was the dominant event of FDR's third term. This quotation is from an address that Roosevelt gave at Chautauqua, New York, on Aug. 14, 1936.

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Waterfall in Room 3

The President Slept Here
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The war ravaged the country. This waterfall is much larger than the others, and large chunks of granite are scattered about. The war attempted to break the fabric of the country as the scattered stones represent the possible break of the memorial.

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FDR and Fala

The FDR Memorial in Washington DC in snow.
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To the left of the waterfall sits a very large sculpture of FDR, larger than life. Yet FDR remains human, sitting beside his dog, Fala. The sculpture is by New Yorker Neil Estern.

FDR doesn't live to see the end of the war, but he continues to fight in Room 4.

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Eleanor Roosevelt Statue

A Bronze Statue of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt Standing Before the United Nations
John Greim/LOOP IMAGES / Getty Images

This sculpture of the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt stands next to the United Nations emblem. This statue is the first time a first lady has been honored in a presidential memorial.

To the left reads a quotation from FDR's Address to the Yalta Conference of 1945: "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."

A beautiful, very large waterfall ends the memorial. Perhaps to show the strength and endurance of the U.S.?

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Rosenberg, Jennifer. "FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C." ThoughtCo, Apr. 29, 2018, thoughtco.com/fdr-memorial-in-washington-d-c-1779901. Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2018, April 29). FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/fdr-memorial-in-washington-d-c-1779901 Rosenberg, Jennifer. "FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/fdr-memorial-in-washington-d-c-1779901 (accessed May 20, 2018).