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FDR tribute is latest in string of controversial monuments

FDR statue

April 30, 1997
Web posted at: 4:48 a.m. EDT (0848 GMT)

From Correspondent Bruce Morton

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNN) -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States, said the only memorial he wanted was a desk-sized stone on a patch of grass outside the National Archives.

He's getting a lot more. Over seven acres, in fact.

"This isn't a memorial to him as a person," explains Lawrence Halprin, the designer of the new FDR memorial. "It's a memorial to what he achieved as our leader. It's a way of communicating to this country what he stood for."


The memorial is not without its controversies, however.

One depiction of Roosevelt, who hid his disability from the public, has the president in a regular chair with little wheels, not a wheelchair. His trademark cigarette is missing. So is Eleanor Roosevelt's fur boa, a concession made to anti- fur activists.

In the city of monuments, this isn't the first memorial to be controversial.

It took 50 years to reach agreement on FDR's memorial, yet it took twice that long to finish George Washington's.


"(The fight) was (over) everything from politics to aesthetics that you can possibly imagine, and it went on for a 100 years," says writer Andrea Gabor.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington's most visited monument, has had its moments, as well. Former presidential candidate Ross Perot donated money for it but wanted a refund after he saw the modern, black granite design.

Critics of the Jefferson Memorial worried its construction would force the park service to cut down cherry trees. It did, under orders from FDR, but more trees have been planted since.

National tug-of-war

"All of these memorials, in some sense, are an interpretation of our national identity, and of course that inherently leads to a tug-of-war," Gabor explains.


There's another worry. With memorials for four presidents, Korea, Vietnam and World War II being planned, the Mall is getting crowded.

"I think that we have to be very careful not to think that the Mall is the only site in Washington that can contain monuments," says Harry Robinson, professor of architecture at Howard University.

But most monument sponsors want their legacies to be placed on the Mall. But with more memorials, the broad sweep from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument would be lost.

Robinson thinks FDR's memorial should be the last one.

He says, "They'll be arguing about that for years to come."


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