Monday, June 1, 2009

What Should The Roosevelt Island FDR Memorial Be About - Honoring Overcoming Challenges & Disabilities Or The Architect Louis Kahn?

Image of FDR Using Crutches From Poughkeepsie Journal and FDR Library/Museum

The May 27 FDR Memorial Town Hall Meeting at which the Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt Institute (FERI) presented an update of the proposed Louis Kahn designed FDR Memorial and a SEQR Environmental briefing aroused heated passions from many Roosevelt Island residents who believe that the proposed Memorial ignores the disabled community both here on Roosevelt Island and across the nation. Many think, myself included, that this proposed Memorial is not so much honoring FDR as it is the architect of the project, Louis Kahn.

For those that want to view the meeting and decide for yourself, RIOC has posted a webcast of the proceedings here. The first 50 minutes of the proceedings are devoted to FERI's presentation. Starting at the 51 minute mark questions and statements from the community were presented. I would recommend paying particular attention to the first two statements by Roosevelt Island Disabled Association (RIDA) President Virginia Granato and Doctor Jack Resnick.

Image From Main Street WIRE of RIDA Members Protesting Against Proposed FDR Memorial

There's More!

The 5/30/ Main Street WIRE (PDF File) has an excellent summary of the Town Hall Meeting and some portions are excerpted below:

... On Wednesday night, the most prominent objection came from a group of disabled residents, who protested the lack of any plan for a full-length portrayal of FDR as a disabled person who nonetheless excelled in life in general, and as a wartime president in particular. They carried signs, but listened quietly as a representative from the construction company, another from the architectural firm, and officials of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute (FERI) made what amounted to a repeat of several previous presentations – six in the last 12 months, by FERI’s count. The report on an environmental impact assessment, the intended purpose of the meeting, was pro forma....

... In the Q&A period that followed the formal presentation, the president of the Roosevelt Island Disabled Association, Virginia Granato, calmly presented her group’s objection: “We feel that being disabled was part of who FDR was, as a human being, and he made wonderful contributions in spite of his disability, and not depicting this is a disservice to disabled and non-disabled alike. It’s part of this island. This island has a history of disabled people. We’ve got two long-term care hospitals here. We feel slighted in not showing that he was a disabled person, and we would like to right this wrong.”

Dr. Jack Resnick, physician to many of the community’s disabled or homebound people, spoke moments after Granato, and set forth the basic question in a few sentences. “It really is unconscionable that you could build a memorial to FDR, on Roosevelt Island, that doesn’t recognize why the island is named Roosevelt Island,” Resnick said....

... Resident after resident then hammered away at the “insult” – lamenting the failure to acknowledge Roosevelt’s disability with a view of him in a wheelchair.

Sally Minard, president and CEO of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, responded to most of these comments by pointing out that showing Roosevelt as a disabled person “is not the purpose of this park.” She emphasized repeatedly that the park’s specific purpose is to celebrate Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. “There are other ways and other places in the park where it can be very clear that Roosevelt was crippled and never could stand or walk alone. We are not ignoring or blind to the significance of his situation....

...Historical Society President Judith Berdy joined those calling for some representation of the physical difficulties FDR overcame. “When I was a student, in
1966, I came here, to Goldwater. Goldwater had open wards of young people, some of whom are in this room, living in iron lungs. Our history of this island has always shunted off the disabled, the prison, the almshouse, the poor. It’s been put away, put on the side. It’s true. It’s time that we reflect more on FDR and his disability.”
Berdy observed that in the ’20s and ’30s, concealing a disability was common, suggesting that times have changed.

“I feel it is time for reconsidering some of the aspects of this memorial to make it more accessible, and perhaps changing some of the depictions of FDR. Showcase his
disability. That will show this island’s history of caring for people – taking those no one cared about and taking care of them and making them at home here.” She said the park should celebrate the whole man, including his disabilities and abilities.“

“There are other ways and other places in the park where it can be very clear that Roosevelt was a man who was crippled and never could stand or walk alone,” Minard responded. “No one is trying to avoid talking about it or writing about it.”
But nothing Minard or others said satisfied those speaking for the disabled community, and subsequent speakers suggested the FERI representatives were deliberately “not hearing” the disabled point of view. The unspoken theme appeared to be that FERI intends to stick closely to the Louis Kahn design, which has led critics to suggest the park is more a monument to Kahn’s architecture than to Roosevelt or the Four Freedoms....
Following the meeting, I sent this email message to Ms. Minard, the CEO of FERI:
Thank you for participating in last night's Public Hearing on the proposed Kahn/FDR Memorial.

As we discussed, here is the link from the National Organization on Disability which includes a resolution of FERI's Board of Directors stating the following:

Resolution of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute Board of Directors at its meeting in Warm Springs, GA, on Tuesday, April 11, 1995

Franklin Delano Roosevelt's indomitability, even in the face of his disability, is an important part of his legacy, and the fact of his disability should be shown in a significant way at the Washington memorial to FDR. Recognizing that time may be needed to do this in an effective way, necessary additions or modifications should be pursued as quickly as possible, but the opening of the memorial should not be delayed.

There are also statements from President's Clinton, Bush (41), Carter and Ford in support of depicting FDR as a person with a disability for the DC Memorial as well as a statement from members of the Roosevelt family saying the same thing.

I understand that many of you have worked very long and hard to get the Kahn designed FDR Memorial build at Southpoint Park. I sincerely ask you to reconsider this design and replace it with one recognizing FDR as a person with a disability who overcame tremendous hardships and challenges to become a great President with a Wheelchair Memorial at the southern tip of the Island instead of the bust and room. It would be a wonderful inspiration for people on Roosevelt Island and all over the world to see such a Memorial demonstrating that nothing is impossible with sufficient will. In keeping with the Four Freedoms aspect of the Park, the base of the Wheelchair could have the 4 Freedoms inscribed on each side.

Please don't dismiss this idea. Bring it to your Board and and donors. See what they say. Better yet - have them come to Roosevelt Island and speak to Doctor Resnick, Virginia Granato and others so that the FERI Board can see first hand how vital this is to Roosevelt Island and America.

On another matter, as we also discussed last night, can you please provide me with the public record of your donor list for the FDR Four Freedoms Park.
Thank you.
Ms. Minard replied:

I appreciate your thoughtful comments on how President Roosevelt should be portrayed.
The sincerity and sensitivity of many Roosevelt Island residents on the subject is understood.
As we said, there are ways and places to accomplish their objective within Southpoint Park.
We are more than willing to work with the community to address the issue.

Regarding the names of contributors to the Four Freedoms Park, the information is not public.
All donors will be recognized at the park when it is completed.

I’m sure we will see you soon.

There are Roosevelt Island residents who have been and are still in favor of FERI's proposed FDR Memorial designed by Louis Kahn. I have been having a continuing dialogue with one of them, Marc Diamond (MD). Here is a recent series of exchanges we have had on topic.

Did you cull together all the information in this post? The articles and stuff?
I think you and I agree on something about FDR park - that the sculpture should show FDR's disability.
Thanks for your thoughts.

Yes, I did pull together all the information.

The question is how do you include a sculpture that shows FDR's disability within the Kahn design context. To date, FERI will not allow any changes to the design.

I, of course, would prefer to substitute the proposed 3 sided enclosed memorial room and bust with a wheelchair statue and perhaps Four Freedoms at the base.

Do you have any thoughts on how to include recognition of FDR's disability in Memorial?
MD :
Nice job on collecting all those clips.
Couldn't the bust of FDR be replaced by a sculpture with FDR in a wheelchair or on crutches? FERI is making other changes to allow for lighting and access for the disabled, like a new ramp in the "Room." And this change would have less affect on the architecture, IMHO.
Will you be there tomorrow night?
I'll be there,

Can't you agree to get rid of the "Room" and just have wheelchair statue at southern site? Is the "room" a "must have"
I think if you get rid of the "room," there's no Kahn design. You gotta start over. It's a "must have" in that sense.
I don't think starting over is an option for RIOC or FERI anymore.
You write that without the "room' there is "No Kahn design". In my view, that is the problem. For some, keeping the 1970 Kahn design is more important than creating the most appropriate 21st century Memorial to President Roosevelt. A wheelchair statue of FDR at the southern tip of Southpoint does not need to be enclosed in a room.

Is it more important to adhere to the Kahn design or recognize and honor those, like FDR, who have overcome great disabilities like polio or any other challenge and hardship? That is not just a Roosevelt Island issue but an American one as well.
When I wrote that, I was being practical. I'm hoping there might still be time to change the sculpture, but I don't think RIOC or FERI is interested in any park design but what they started with.
I'm not disagreeing that there may be a better design for the park/memorial or that there could be substantive changes to the Kahn design that would be better. No one knows whether Kahn's design would win if it were one entry in a new international design competition. But it seems to be all about the money for the last year or two. And even that looks like it's in FERI's favor now. Personally, I believe I will really enjoy the Room, whether Kahn designed it or not. But yes, I will get a kick out of knowing it was designed by Kahn. If I could change something about the design, it would be to do away with the stone on all the sloping surfaces and replace it with grass or some other groundcover.
But that cat's out of the barn, or that horse has sailed, or that's soda under the bridge, or the fat lady has eaten, or, well, you know.

The Saga continues. Stay tuned for more.


Anonymous said...

It should be about FDR as seen by the architect, Louis Kahn. It really depends on what Kahn wanted to focus on. Is it supposed to be about overcoming FDR's disability or about other things? What kind of input do we actually have on the final design?

Anonymous said...

I side with FERI. This is a Kahn monument. He had a vision how it should look like. He is the artist. As Ms. Minard repeatedly said there will be enough space and opportunity at Southpoint Park to show the other sides of FDR. Why does nobody want to listen to that?

Anonymous said...

In fact, Kahn's design was developed in coordination with the Four Freedoms Foundation (as FERI was known at the time) and is much more understated than the original proposal by the architect.

The island was not renamed in recognition of FDR's disability. It was renamed because the memorial was to be built there, as an effort to erect a New York monument to the president.

This park--or, more specifically, the "room"--is about FDR's presidential legacy, not the circumstances of his personal life. Knowing this, FERI's proposal to address FDR's disability in non-sculptural ways makes the most sense.

Anonymous said...

The NWO/Kahn PROPAGANDA TROLL PARADE takes a lot of bytes and sweats a lot around here.

Sieg Heil next ? After all, just like FERI, the Third Reich DID consider disabled people UNTERMENSCHEN = sub-human, not to be mentioned. Yeah, that justifies FERI's 'screw disabled' approach, what a tie to mega-history.
Anybody cares to clarify for our disabled neighbors /visitors for how long will they be allowed being on RI ? It took less than 5 years from 1933 Kristallnacht to disabled deported into Reich concentration camps. Yeah, true, they were a drag on Drang nach Osten, and slowed down the Lebensraum - too many resources for them. Just like on RI. Sieg Heil Kahn !

How about moving, along with this NWO/Stalinist mausoleum and hatred for/shame of/ disabled?

1. To Cuba w/ nothing but 'organized thinking' allowed. Since full of 'brown' people, might not be compatible ?

2. Russia: strong-arm Putin would love you - and, these 2 bozos (Kahn and Jo Davidson, the mega-bust creator)are both loser Russian Jews, barely off the boat. Changed their names, which didn't help much.

3. China: Since the Tienanmen massacre 20th anniversary was just slammed by the Chinese, you might try China, too. Kahn style is very compatible with Chinese communist era, still alive (bigger and heavier is always better)- NO thinking, no protests allowed.

Sieg Heil Kahn !

Anonymous said...

The FDR Memorial is about the former president's "Four Freedoms," not his disability. That it was designed by one of the greatest U.S. architects and not a hack should be cause for celebration, not disparagement.

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