The Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Memorial was dedicated to America’s 32nd President by President Bill Clinton on May 2nd, 1997. The monument encompasses 12 years of the United States’ history through four outdoor rooms representative of Roosevelt’s four terms of office. More than 3 million people travel to the monument each year. Located half way between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the FDR Memorial is spread over more than 7.5 acres with 21 quotes, bronze statues, and pathways along manmade waterfalls.
The Memorial dates back to the first Congressional actions in 1955 which established the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Commission. Originally intended to be a modest memorial, the memorial ended up taking 40 years to become much larger than Roosevelt may have wanted. Roosevelt had previously told a friend by the name of Felix Frankfurter that he merely wanted “a block about the size of [this desk] … in the center of that green plot in front of the Archives Building.”
It took until 1974 when the Memorial Commission officially selected Lawrence Halprin, a landscape architect, to design the memorial. The resultant design’s acreage is more of a quaint gardens with secluded areas featuring manmade waterfalls, shade trees, and secluded alcoves.
The construction of the memorial features South Dakota granite along the walls of each outdoor room and the passages between them. Visitors should take time to reflect on the twenty-one FDR quotes incised into the granite by John Benson.
The Four Rooms
- An introductory depiction of the first years of FDR’s presidency, the first room features Robert Graham’s bronze bas-relief sculpture commemorating the first inauguration. The design of the room is intended to reflect upon the Great Depression and FDR’s New Deal.
- The second room features George Segal’s famous Breadline sculpture that depicts the reality of the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. Segal also sculpted The Rural Couple and Fireside Chat sculptures. The Rural Couple depicts a man standing next to a woman sitting in a wooden chair in front of a barn wall. Whereas the Fireside Chat shows a barefoot man sitting in a broken chair leaning into a radio as President Roosevelt is speaking. The sculptures represent the difficulties experienced, privatization during the Great Depression, and the hope the people had in President Roosevelt leading them through the crisis.
- With a waterfall that crashes over artfully placed boulders, the third room is meant to reflect the violence and utter destruction that World War II experienced under FDR’s third term. The chaos that is created by the waterfall is contrasted with Neil Estern’s statue of Roosevelt and his dog Fala. Roosevelt’s dog Fala is the only presidential pet to be memorialized. The following quote is engraved on the wall nearest to the statue:
"We have faith that future generations will know that here, in the middle of the twentieth century, there came 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."
- The fourth room is a reflection on the nation’s mourning that ensued following Roosevelts death from a cerebral hemorrhage three months into his final term. Leonard Baskin created a monumental bas-relief sculpture known as The Funeral Cortege which is opposite Neil Estern’s statue of Eleanor Roosevelt.
When visitors first arrive to the memorial they will be met by a statue placed in 2001 which features Robert Graham’s statue of FDR sitting in a wheelchair. The statue accurately reflects the type he used following the bout with polio that began paralyzing his legs in 1921. He would wear leg braces at times under his suits, but largely hid his disease from the American public for fear it was a sign of weakness and instability.
Lastly, if you have time, be sure to visit the smaller memorial to FDR located outside the National Archives.
Visiting the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
While the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is open to the public 24 hours a day, Park Rangers are only on site to answer questions between 9:30 AM and 11:30 PM daily. Between 10:00 AM and 11:00 PM daily there are interpretive programs available.
When planning your visit we highly suggest incorporating the use of the local Metro services such as the Metro Bus and Metro Rail options. The station closest to the memorial is the Smithsonian which services the Orange and Blue lines. If you decide to take the bus, the FDR memorial can be reached via the number 32, 34, and 36 bus routes.
If you do decide to drive to the memorial, visitor lots A, B, and C, are located along Ohio Drive. There are handicapped accessible parking spaces on West Basin Drive directly in front of the memorial.
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is located a mile south of the White House along the Potomac River Tidal Basin. Other memorials within walking distance are the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and Jefferson Memorial.
A bit further out, you can find the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and World War II Memorial, and Holocaust Museum.
If you have not been before, you should check out the Southwest Waterfront and East Potomac Park. The area is host to longest-running public fish market in the United States.