Even Our Most Loved Monuments Had a Trial by Fire

Controversies like those swirling around the FDR Memorial are the rule when Americans try to agree on anything to be cast in bronze

FDR Memorial
Franklin Roosevelt Memorial Wikimedia Commons

What do the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial and the lions guarding the New York Public Library have in common? Although all of them are widely loved today, remarkably, they all underwent a trial by fire. In a trip back in time, author Andrea Gabor explores this fascinating history, from Americans' early general distrust of making heroes of people, to Congress's penchant for bickering, to sometimes scathing esthetic criticism.

The latest monument to undergo this treatment is the FDR Memorial, which is being dedicated in May after a half-century of controversy. An eloquent series of sylvan rooms, it sits next to the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. Created by renowned architect Lawrence Halprin as a tribute to the way Franklin Delano Roosevelt led the nation, it contains sculptures and reliefs by leading American artists. Since the 1940s, almost every aspect of the planning and design of this monument has been contested--including various early designs that were scrapped; the size and cost; and, more recently, the way in which FDR and his wife, Eleanor, are portrayed. Author Gabor reports on these controversies, some of which are still ongoing, while reminding us that fighting over our now-beloved monuments is nothing new.

Get the latest History stories in your inbox?

Click to visit our Privacy Statement.