The grounds of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial have been allowed to deteriorate to the point of sabotaging one of our most valuable strategic assets: the revered memory of a great president.

Built at a cost of about $48 million and dedicated less than a decade ago, the FDR Memorial on the Potomac edge of the Tidal Basin is arguably the most beautiful monument created since the domed memorial honoring Thomas Jefferson was completed in 1943.

The FDR Memorial, designed by legendary American landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, balances architecture and horticulture, and to slight one part of this wonderful creation is to blight the other. What makes the neglect of the landscape at the memorial so galling is that the cost of returning it to superb condition and maintaining it at the highest level of care would appear to be trifling.

How much could it cost to replace browned-out junipers and leggy azaleas? To pull the weeds, mulch the trampled earth, prune the overhanging shrubbery and cull conspicuously dead trees? Would it cost as much as one of the hideous barricades that have been erected in front of major public buildings all around Washington?

I asked a National Park Service ranger at the FDR Memorial about the condition of the grounds. He said that the discretionary funds that could have been used for landscape maintenance had been diverted to pointing up the stones at the Washington Monument. This pointing work could have been done as part of a line-item budget request for the following year, but, for some reason, it was not.

He also told me that the landscape and maintenance functions of the National Park Service on the Mall were being turned over to private contractors. The odd thing is, the money required for the transition from public to private maintenance was coming from the existing maintenance budget. Maybe that's why I found the washrooms at the FDR Memorial dirty and smelly, with empty soap dispensers and stained mirrors. Is it too much to ask that the landscaping and sanitation at a memorial to one of our most pivotal presidents and a great liberal leader be appropriately maintained?

-- Nathan Edelson

nathanedelson@comcast.net