Nearly forty years after former mayor John Lindsay first laid out the proposal that would turn what was once Welfare Island into Roosevelt Island, complete with a memorial to our 32nd president and former New York governor, whose New Deal reforms created the social safety net and public works programs led the country out of the Great Depression and would cushion the blow of any future economic calamities, the memorial has finally come to fruition on the south end of Roosevelt Island.
Now the four-acre parkland, named after Roosevelt's Four Freedoms Speech in which he outlined the four basic freedoms all humans are entitled to—freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom from want, and freedom from fear—commands sweeping views of Midtown Manhattan across the East River from the United Nations, which incorporated parts of that famous address to Congress into its charter.
The memorial itself was designed by architect Louis I. Kahn and features a stone plaza on the southernmost tip of the island, with a verdant walk in the center lined with 120 Linden trees that lead visitors to a out-sized bust of Roosevelt ensconced in a stone edifice. On the back of the memorial, an excerpt from the Four Freedoms Speech is etched into the stone, facing the East River.
It's worth mentioning that, when it came to being memorialized, President Roosevelt had very specific and reserved wishes: "If any memorial is erected to me, I should like it to consist of a block about the size of this desk and placed in front of the Archives Building. I want it plain, without any ornamentation, with the simple carving, 'In Memory Of.'" Such a memorial was placed in the shadow of the National Archives in 1965, but that didn't stop New York City or, indeed, Washington, D.C.—with its sprawling 7.5-acre tribute—from memorializing a president who very pointedly said if he was to be memorialized, he'd like it to be subdued.
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