- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 12, 2005

he Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is more than a monument. It is a trip back to the Depression and World War II eras, with subtle symbolism leading the way.

Sure, there are the obvious things to see, such as the bronze sculptures of the 32nd U.S. president. However, all along the plaza — made of 7.5 acres of South Dakota granite and spread out on the picture-perfect shore of the Tidal Basin — are nuances that history, architecture and design buffs will enjoy.

The best way to fully appreciate the nuances is to enlist the help of one of the U.S. Park Service rangers at the memorial. They have the background on what architect Lawrence Halprin and the various artists were thinking when the memorial, which opened in 1997, was designed.

The rangers give guided tours upon request. On a recent weekday morning, ranger Eric Pominville, who calls himself a “history geek,” was doing such a good job that many visitors roaming the memorial fell in line along the way. One local resident even commented that she had been to the site several times but saw it through new eyes with Mr. Pominville’s commentary.

The FDR Memorial is divided into four outdoor “rooms,” each representing a period in Roosevelt’s long presidency. The first room highlights the optimism of the New Deal and FDR’s first term (1933-37), with famous quotes such as, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” engraved into the walls.

The next room takes visitors into Roosevelt’s second term and the Depression. There are bronze sculptures of a poor rural couple; tired-looking men in a bread line; and a man with his ear poised toward the radio, presumably listening to the broadcast of a presidential fireside chat.

On the other side of those sculptures, an abstract five-panel wall relief and five columns highlight the many social and economic programs of the New Deal. To some visitors, the random human body parts — an ear here, a handprint there — may seem odd. Interspersed with images of various projects, the relief gives the impression that the programs had an effect on humanity.

“It’s abstract art,” Mr. Pominville says. “The artist wants us to come away with many interpretations. The columns represent the artistic process as well as the rolling out of one program after another.”

Visitors are encouraged to touch the panels, columns and images.

“This is a piece about social programs,” Mr. Pominville says. “We want to encourage social interaction.”

Between the second and third rooms, a buffer zone and a break in the stone wall (showing an expanse of grass) represents the point in the presidency when the United States was headed for World War II, Mr. Pominville says.

In the third room, symbolism of the chaos of war is all around as large blocks of granite are piled haphazardly. Here is where the signature piece of the memorial — a larger-than-life sculpture of Roosevelt — is on display.

Mr. Pominville points out a few details — the president is wearing his naval cape; he is seated in a sculpted reproduction of his favorite chair from his home at Hyde Park, N.Y.; the wrinkled fabric on the legs of his pants show how his muscles had atrophied after his bout with polio; his fingers are positioned as if his ever-present cigarette were there, but the actual cigarette was left out in these politically correct times.

The wartime president’s face looks quite haggard. Next to FDR is a statue of his beloved dog, Fala. The dog, naturally, presents a big photo opportunity for families with young children.

In 2000, a smaller statue was added near the memorial’s entrance. The $5 million addition depicts FDR in his wheelchair.

The final room represents the death of the president in April 1945. In this section, the water fountains — which ripple and flow through the park in the first three sections — are still and silent. Another relief sculpture represents the funeral cortege.

Finally, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt is memorialized at the end. A sculpture of her stands in front of the symbol for the United Nations, as she played an instrumental role in its founding. She gazes across the plaza and the Tidal Basin in the direction of the White House.

“Mrs. Roosevelt actually spent very little time there,” Mr. Pominville says. “She went places the president could not. She went down into the mines and to the troops overseas to see how conditions were.”

When you go

Location: The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is at West Basin and Ohio drives in Northwest.

Directions: Take 17th Street NW to Independence Avenue. Turn onto West Basin Drive and follow the signs.

Hours: The memorial is open 24 hours a day. Rangers are on site from 8:45 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. The bookstore and gift shop is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Admission: free.

Parking: Limited street parking is available nearby.

More information: 202/485-9880 or www.nps.gov/fdrm.

Notes:

• The FDR Memorial, operated by the National Park Service, is a vast plaza that represents the life and legacy of the 32nd president. The memorial is constructed mainly of granite, but trees, waterfalls and statues are incorporated into the landscape and help tell the story.

• The best way to understand the memorial is to ask a ranger for a guided tour.

• Younger children who may not appreciate the history still will enjoy this monument because there is plenty of room to run and enjoy the spectacular view of the Tidal Basin and other monuments.

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