The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for December 22nd, 2014

mellow gleams

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FDR Four Freedoms Park, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The recent travelogue offered here, describing a recent visit to Roosevelt Island, concludes today with a visit to the southern terminus of that East River island where the brand new FDR Four Freedoms Park is found. Originally conceived and designed by Pratt University’s Louis Kahn in 1972 and completed by Mitchell | Giurgola Architects three decades later, the park is some four acres in size and honors the memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and commemorates the “Four Freedoms” speech he offered the nation in 1941.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Roosevelt was, of course, the 32nd President of these United States, after having served as the 44th Governor of New York State (amongst other jobs including appointments like Assistant Secretary of the Navy and lower elected offices). The convoluted history of how this park got built, a process which stretched out over three decades, is not what this post will attempt to describe – I would suggest a trip over to wikipedia for the whole story of that one. Suffice to say that a whole lot of money and ego found their way into the masonry of this place. Pictured above is a list of the various donors who financially supported the place, which reads like a “who’s who” of NYC’s modern day Real Estate and Non Profit Industrial Complexes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The park itself is quite an interesting spot, and quite reminiscent of other modern monuments. A series of massing shapes set at an angle against the horizon, with leading lines and sparse plantings. The grand entrance offers a set of shallow steps at its entrance. Unfortunately, or not, my arrival at the Park was in the mid afternoon during the month of December, a time of year when the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself hangs languid and wan in the winter sky offering little warmth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Instinct often carries me off to the less traveled side, but whenever one visits a “grand design” for the first time an attempt is made to follow the path intended. Knees groaning, one climbed the relatively short flight of steps, stepping over the inscribed names of the donors. This carried me to the apex of the stairway, and the main plaza of the place.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The leading sight lines are directed at a monumental bust found at the extreme south end of the park, but I couldn’t help but notice that what it was pointing directly at was east 23rd street’s East River “Gas Light district” frontage near Stuyvesant Town, and those brutalist residential towers found between 24th and 30th streets. An odd coincidence, given the less than friendly relationship of the Roosevelt family with the Rockefellers (Stuyvesant Town was a Rockefeller project).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The true monument to FDR happens to be across the river in Manhattan, a building which also happens to be a Rockefeller project, the United Nations Building. Famously, Eleanor Roosevelt was a primal factor in the creation of the global congress. I’m sort of a fanboy for Eleanor Roosevelt, incidentally, and am always reminded of one of her many, many quotable lines – “we all do better when we’re all doing better” during the recitation of modern political discourse by present day ideologues.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An odd choice in statuary, the floating bust of Roosevelt seems sad. In his lifetime, the man went out of his way to always appear chipper and smiling in public. Reticence seems to be the mood projected by this object, tinged with regret, and it’s based on portraits of the President from late in his life. This is the face of a man who had just commissioned the construction of two atomic bombs, rather than the countenance of the man who delivered one of the primal speeches of the 20th century that defined “the American way.”

Tomorrow, which is Festivus by the way, some of the things recently witnessed over in the Shining City of Manhattan.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 22, 2014 at 11:42 am

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