Treasures of New York – Four Freedoms Park

Air date: 10/31/2013

Four Freedoms Park Highlighted on the Next Edition of Treasures of New YorkPremiering on October 22 on WLIW21 and October 31 on THIRTEEN


Hosted by author and historian Douglas Brinkley, the film explores the architectural gem honoring the legacy of FDR


At the southern tip of New York City’s Roosevelt Island stands a proud memorial to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt known as Four Freedoms Park. Celebrating its one-year anniversary this month, the park is named after the stirring historic speech the President delivered to Congress on January 6, 1941 before the United States entered World War II.

Known as the Four Freedoms speech, Roosevelt warned that American’s security was at great risk from the Axis powers in Europe and Asia. If war was inevitable, the President said, the world needs to commit itself to four freedoms to prevent another war from ever happening again:  freedom of expression, freedom to worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

Why the park was conceived, and how numerous obstacles to its construction were overcome, are revealed in the next edition of Treasures of New York: Four Freedoms Park airing Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 10:30 p.m. on WLIW21 and Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 10:30 p.m. on THIRTEEN; with encore presentations on Sunday, October 27 at 6 p.m. and Tuesday, October 29 at 1:30 a.m. on WLIW21; and Monday, November 4 at 5 a.m., Thursday, November 7 at 5 a.m. and Sunday, November 17 at 2 p.m. on THIRTEEN. After the initial WLIW broadcast, the full episode will be available for online streaming at The website offers past episodes and conversations with visionaries behind New York’s greatest institutions.

Hosted by author and historian Douglas Brinkley, Treasures of New York: Four Freedoms Park explains how former U.N. Ambassador William vanden Heuvel, a longtime admirer of the 32nd U.S. President, was the driving force behind a New York City memorial to FDR. He was present at a ceremony in 1973 when New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and New York City Mayor John Lindsey renamed the former Welfare Island after FDR and announced plans for a memorial. One of the country’s top architects, Louis Kahn, was chosen to design the project and, as his son, filmmaker Nathaniel Kahn relates, “it was a commission of a lifetime” for his father.

Kahn’s design laid out a set of granite steps leading to a point-shaped lawn with rows of trees on either side. At the tip of the point was envisioned a six-foot tall bronze bust of FDR and, beyond that, a structure Kahn dubbed “The Room.” The stately stone walls and 60 foot-square open plaza would provide spectacular views of the East River, Queens, and Manhattan, including the United Nations. Then in 1974, several setbacks occurred that put the plan on hold: key supporter Nelson Rockefeller became vice president and moved to Washington, D.C.; Louis Kahn died of a heart attack; and the city’s financial crisis sidelined discretionary projects like the FDR memorial.

But Bill vanden Heuvel persisted and was later joined in the effort by Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. However, it was the success of Nathaniel Kahn’s documentary about his father titled “My Architect” (2003) that renewed interest in Louis Kahn’s work and spurred Gina Pollara, a young NYC architect, to co-curate a Cooper Union exhibit about the FDR project. Suddenly Pollara and vanden Heuvel learned Alphawood, a Chicago foundation, would contribute $10 million towards Kahn’s design and advertising executive Sally Minard, who was named president, would announce several years later that over 50 million had been raised despite the recession. Construction finally began on March 29, 2010, 38 years after the initial ceremony, and lasted for 30 months.

Among the challenges facing crews during the three phases of construction was laying the foundation at the tip of the island below water level; and shipping the granite columns, often weighing 36 tons, by barge to the island as they was too heavy for the bridge. About 100 trained stone setters individually positioned 70 massive stones in “The Room,” Nick Benson then hand-carved an inscription from the Four Freedoms speech on one of the granite walls, the bronze bust of FDR was mounted, and landscapers planted 120 Littleleaf linden trees in perfectly aligned rows. On October 17, 2012, an array of political and cultural leaders gathered to dedicate the park and open it to the public.

Back in 1970, the editorial board of the New York Times wrote that the island was a good fit for an FDR memorial because it “would face the sea he loved, the Atlantic he bridged, the Europe he helped save and the United Nations he inspired.” Bill vanden Heuvel would agree, “I think he would have appreciated its beauty and the fact that the U.N. is the principal object of observation…this is what he believed in, that the nations of the world would come together.”

Treasures of New York: Four Freedoms Park is a production of WLIW21, in association with WNET, the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21, New York’s public television stations and operator of NJTV.

Julie Cohen is producer of the Treasures of New York: Four Freedoms Park program. Diane Masciale is executive producer of the Treasures of New York series and local programming. Executive-in-Charge of Production is John Servidio.

Treasures of New York explores New York’s cultural heritage by spotlighting its points of interest, distinguished establishments and notable figures.  Treasures of New York: Four Freedoms Park is made possible by the Charina Endowment Fund, the Dyson Foundation, Anne and Vincent Mai and Bernard and Irene Schwartz.




About WNET
In 2013, WNET is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of THIRTEEN, New York’s flagship public media provider. As the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to over 5 million viewers each week. WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend, Charlie Rose and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings available on air and online. Pioneers in educational programming, WNET has created such groundbreaking series as Get the Math, Oh Noah! and Cyberchase and provides tools for educators that bring compelling content to life in the classroom and at home. WNET highlights the tri-state’s unique culture and diverse communities through NYC-ARTS, Reel 13, NJ Today and MetroFocus, the multi-platform news magazine focusing on the New York region. WNET is also a leader in connecting with viewers on emerging platforms, including the THIRTEEN Explore iPad App where users can stream PBS content for free.

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Picture 1

Ambassador vanden Heuvel at Four Freedoms Park. Photo credit: ©Gina Pollara

Picture 14.

Mrs. FDR Jr. at the construction site of Four Freedoms Park witnessing the first granite block from North Carolina being placed in the park. Photo credit: ©Four Freedoms Park Conservancy

Picture 2

View of Four Freedoms Park through the Littleleaf linden trees. Photo Credit: ©Channel Thirteen LLC

Picture 3

A Louis Kahn sketch of Four Freedoms Park (colored Pencil on yellow trace, circa 1973). Photo Credit: ©University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

Picture 4

Stone setters placing the 36 ton granite blocks in the parks. Photo Credit: ©Four Freedoms Park Conservancy

Picture 5

View of the park being constructed on June 8, 2012. Photo Credit: ©Four Freedoms Park Conservancy

Picture 6

FDR bust with the view of the skyline of New York City behind it. Photo Credit: ©Channel Thirteen LLC

Picture 7

FDR Bust through the Littleleaf linden trees surrounded by water. Photo Credit: ©Channel Thirteen LLC

Picture 8

Workers lay down the foundation at the tip of Roosevelt Island which is below sea level. Photo credit: ©Four Freedoms Park Conservancy

Picture 9

A mold of the FDR Bust to be put in the Four Freedoms Park being made. Photo Credit: ©Four Freedoms Park Conservancy

Picture 10

Gina Pollara at the construction site with the crew. Photo Credit: ©Four Freedoms Park Conservancy

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The etching of the Four Freedoms pronounced by FDR in the 1941 State of the Union. Photo Credit: ©Channel Thirteen LLC

Picture 12

Nathaniel Kahn, the son of the architect Louis Kahn who designed the Four Freedoms Park. Photo Credit: ©Channel Thirteen LLC

Picture 13

The granite blocks used to construct the room being brought up the river on a barge to the island. Photo credit: ©Four Freedoms Park Conservancy