NEW YORK (AP) – Dignitaries on Wednesday dedicated a new memorial state park overlooking the United Nations to former President Franklin Roosevelt.
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, on an island in the East River, “will stand forever as a monument to the man who brought us through the Great Depression and brought us victory over great evil,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg told several hundred people at the dedication ceremony, celebrating a design 40 years in the making.
Former President Bill Clinton said Roosevelt’s dream for a better world “is still the right dream for America” and the park should remind the nation his lofty goals are worth pursuing.
The triangular park is named after Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address, known as the Four Freedoms Speech, given before America got involved in World War II. Roosevelt said the way to justify the enormous sacrifice of war was to create a world centered on four essential human freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. The words were later incorporated into the charter of the United Nations.
The park sits on Roosevelt Island, a 2-mile slice of land between Manhattan and Queens. The 4-acre expanse of green is flanked by 120 trees leading to a colossal bronze bust of Roosevelt at the threshold of a white granite open-air plaza.
The statue is an enlargement of a 28-inch bust of Roosevelt, also a New York governor, created by American sculptor Jo Davidson. It sits in a stone niche on the back of which a passage from the Four Freedoms speech is carved. The statue sits a mere 300 yards across the river from the headquarters of the United Nations, which Roosevelt helped found.
The park will open to the public on Oct. 24.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. William vanden Heuvel, chairman of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park LLC, said, “We hope visitors of different ages will understand that the four freedoms are the core values of democracy and that each generation has to be sure to protect them.”
Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Mayor John Lindsay first announced creation of the memorial park and appointed Louis Kahn as its architect in 1973. Vanden Heuvel, who was there that day, said Kahn completed the drawings a year later. That year, Rockefeller became vice president, and the city verged on bankruptcy. With no money, the park was shelved.
The project was revived by vanden Heuvel in 2005 after an Oscar-nominated documentary about Kahn, “My Architect,” brought renewed interest.
Over the next seven years, $53 million was raised, $34 million from private donors. The rest came from the city and the state.
The park had been embroiled in a legal dispute with two of its major donors over how prominently their names would be displayed. The Alphawood Foundation, which donated $10.8 million, reached an undisclosed settlement, while the Reed Foundation, which gave $2.9 million, won a court judgment for its name to be engraved in an area near the memorial bust as spelled out in a contract. The park had argued that such a placement would dishonor Roosevelt and defile Kahn’s work.
Roosevelt was stricken with polio at age 39 and needed a wheelchair for the rest of his life, and a sculpture highlighting his disability is planned. The statue, by sculptor Meredith Bergmann, will depict him seated in a wheelchair, reaching for the hand of a young girl on crutches.
Seventy-year-old Nancy Brown, who got polio at age 7 and attended the ceremony in a wheelchair, said the sculpture will be “an inspiration to people who are disabled, especially children.”
In the next several years, the park hopes to transform a nearby abandoned hospital into a visitor’s center. About 15,000 people live on the northern end of the island, which is reachable by tram or subway. The park plans to work closely with Cornell University, which is planning a graduate center on the island, on a nearby dock to transport people via water taxi and ferry.
Associated Press writer Samantha Gross contributed to the report.
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