The Original FDR Memorial

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial that is spread out over seven and a half acres on the southern side of The Tidal Basin may be the largest Presidential memorial in D.C. to honor our nation’s 32nd President, but it is not the only one.  It was also not the first. The original FDR Memorial, which relatively few people know about, is located in front of the National Archives building near the corner of 9th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in downtown D.C.

When asked in September of 1941 about how he would like to be memorialized, President Roosevelt told his friend, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, “If any memorial is erected to me, I know exactly what I should like it to be.  I should like it to consist of a block about the size of this (putting his hand on his desk) and placed in the center of that green plot in front of the Archives Building. I don’t care what it is made of, whether limestone or granite or whatnot, but I want it plain without any ornamentation, with the simple carving, ‘In Memory of ____’.”

However, his personal wishes notwithstanding, there was a lengthy argument following his death about the kind of memorial that the Federal government should create for FDR.  Congress authorized the establishment of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Commission on August 11, 1955, and on September 1, 1959, it enacted legislation authorizing the Commission to announce a design competition.

But getting any sort of memorial to FDR erected in D.C. was not a simple task.  Millions of Americans intensely disliked FDR, and many still do, mostly because of the liberal New Deal programs he initiated.  There was dissonance about the design selected, and even FDR’s family expressed concerns about the divisiveness and criticism that might accompany the establishment of a memorial at that time.  In the end, Congress held the FDR memorial issue in abeyance, at least for a few decades.

Ignoring FDR’s wishes for a simple memorial didn’t sit well with many of his friends and associates though.  So on April 12, 1965, the twentieth anniversary of his death, a small group of associates of the President used private funds to erect and dedicate the small memorial to FDR, which was designed in accordance with his specific wishes, and placed where he had requested.  The engraved words on the memorial simply say “In Memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt 1882 1945.”

It was not until thirty years later, in contradiction to Roosevelt’s wishes, that the larger and more well-known FDR Memorial was dedicated.  Of the two memorials, however, it is pretty clear that if Roosevelt could choose, he  would opt for the original one.

FDRoriginal02     FDRoriginal03     FDRoriginal04
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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