The proposal to create a $46-million memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt beside the Tidal Basin was criticized at a public hearing last week as an "extravagant," "grandiose" who sign-"a pyramid for a president" who asked only to be remembered by a single stone.
Only 14 persons spoke at the hearing in the Department of Interior auditorium at 18th and C streets NW, a "disappointing turnout" to consider a major monument comparable to the Lincoin and Jefferson memorials, hearing examiner Raymond L. Freeman told the audience of about 35 persons.
The memorial, which would be a meandering wall 1,000 feet long and 14 feet high, would include waterfalls, fountains and sculpture, as well as a theater, library, visitors center and cafe. It would cost more than any U.S. monument, even more than rebuilding the Washington Monument at today's prices, according to National Park Service estimates.
The Park Service, which conducted the hearing as part of an environmental impact statement it is preparing on the proposed memorial, has received only 10 letters commenting on the proposal, as of Tuesday. All opposed the monument, most as an unnecessarily large and expensive intrusion on the nation's Mall. Several said it would detract from the Tidal Basin and its cherry blossoms and would increase traffic in the Mall area by closing part of the Tidal Basin road.
The monument, which would ring the western edge of the Tidal Basin, behind the existing cherry trees, is the third major monument to FDR to be proposed since Congress created an FDR memorial commission in 1955 and set aside 66 acres for it in West Potomac Park. The other designs were rejected by federal planning agencies as inappropriate for the Mall.
While last week's hearing was held primarily to discuss the impact the memorial would have on the Mall, most speakers opposed it because they said it was too big and too expensive.
"I helped put in the present memorial to FDR in downtown Washington (at Pennsylvania Avenue and 9th Street NW) as a volunteer in 1965," said Robin Ficker of the Citizens Charter Committee of Montgomery County. The plain block of marble the size of FDR's desk in the White House, is what Roosevelt told Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter he wanted for a memorial. It cost $15,000 and was paid for with private donations.
"But now we find that small is not beautiful. Big is beautiful. . . the proposed memorial is grandiose and in utter disregard of the man we all seek to honor. . . grandiose is not the only way to honor Americans. We don't need a pyramid," Ficker said to applause.
Former New York Congressmen Eugene J. Keogh, current chairman of the Roosevelt Commission, spoke several times at the hearing, responding to criticisms of the memorial. "There is no authenticated verification President Roosevelt ever made that statement (to Frankfurter)," said Keogh. "It was in diary of a man now dead."
Keogh also objected to other FDR memorial sites mentioned by speakers, including a major memorial on Roosevelt Island in New York's East River, opposite the United Nations. Designed by the late Louis Kahn, it was to cost $4 million when it was proposed in 1974, but was postponed because of New York City's financial crisis. It was to be funded by the city, the developer of the new town on Roosevelt Island and private donations.
Several speakers urged that no memorial be built next to the Tidal Basin, but that recently opened Constitution Gardens be renamed in honor of FDR or FDR and his wife Eleanor.
Other speakers opposed the monument because it would create traffic jams around the Mall, since a part of West Basin Drive would be closed, and Ohio Drive, now a frequently crowded one-way street, would be made two-way.
The proposed memorial has not yet been funded by Congress, though legislation authorizing it is expected to be reintroduced in the next session. Additional hearings would be held prior to any action by Congress.