Field Trip Friday: FDR Four Freedoms Park Hard Hat Tour

Yesterday, OHNY staff took a tour of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, designed by architect Louis I. Kahn and currently being constructed on the southern point of Roosevelt Island. Located at the center of the East River (which is not actually a river, but a tidal strait connecting Upper New York Bay to the Long Island Sound), the site offers panoramic views of the city’s skyline.

The original Smallpox Hospital, designed by James Renwick

Gina Pollara, Executive Director of Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, and associate Stephen Martin led us through the site. We met at the Park’s entrance, located just south of the Smallpox Hospital, designed by James Renwick and built in 1856. Also known as the Renwick Ruin, it was landmarked in 1976 (the only ruin in the city to carry that designation) and has now been stabilized so that it can remain as an example of Gothic Revival architecture.

The final design for FDR Four Freedoms Park

Five Copper Beech trees will mark the Park’s entrance, as seen above. Visitors can arrive via paths that run along the east and west sides of the island, directly along the river’s edge, or by a wide stair that will eventually rise twelve feet to meet the “Garden,” a triangular shaped lawn bordered on either side by an allée of Little Leaf Linden trees.

Gina and Stephen described how the Garden will provide a southern view along the river and the promenade will highlight views of Queens and Manhattan. Both promenades and the path through the Garden will lead to the Forecourt, also bordered by Linden trees, and eventually the sculpture court which will display a sculpture of Franklin D. Roosevelt created from life in 1933 by artist Jo Davidson.

Kahn referred to the area at the tip of the Park as the “Room,” which is meant to be “a transition from a place of activity to a more contemplative setting.” The “Room” will be a 72-foot square plaza, open to the south but otherwise defined by high, closely spaced granite columns. The open south side of the Room provides a beautiful views of the United Nations, city skyline and the East River.

Showing us the plans

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park is named after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous Four Freedoms speech, given on January 6, 1941. Addressing Congress right before the US entered World War II, President Roosevelt spoke about our right to four essential freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom to Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. These points will be memorialized and inscribed on a granite wall in the final design of the Park.

The granite comes from a quarry in North Carolina

Planning for the park began back in 1970, when the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute (then known as the Four Freedoms Foundation) initiated the idea for a memorial to FDR in New York. The southern tip of what was then known as Welfare Island was selected and so the island was renamed Roosevelt Island in honor of the former President on September 24, 1973. Fundraising kicked off as soon as the project was conceived (the estimated cost of the memorial at that time was $6 million) but the financial crisis in New York City in the mid-1970s prevented them from moving forward. In 1985, the Roosevelt Memorial Commission finally reviewed site plans and reaffirmed their commitment.

It has been a challenge to find funding for the project, but some progress has now been made towards building the memorial. The ruins of the Old City Hospital at the southern end of the island have been torn down and the site has been filled, shaped and graded according to Kahn’s design.

The first stones have been placed

This past Monday, Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg were there to welcome the arrival of 24 Granite Foundation Stones, monolithic stones that each weigh 36 tons. They are now being placed onto the site to form the Room’s foundation. This part of the site, referred to as the “Room,” is currently surrounded by a steel wall which help forms a bathtub-like area out of which they must constantly pump water.

OHNY Staff and Gina Pollara, on site

The Park is to be completed and open by Fall 2012.  We are excited to follow the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park’s progress and look forward to comparing ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots once it is completed!


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