Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945), the 32nd President of the United States, led the country through the Great Depression and World War II. Like his distant cousin Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), he received a Harvard education and became an active participant in New York State politics before becoming a national figure. Roosevelt was elected President in 1932 and was reelected three times, serving until his death–a tenure longer than that of any other US President.
FDR, as Roosevelt is popularly known, created a comprehensive network of social services under the designation “The New Deal.” The program helped revitalize the depressed national economy and many of its initiatives, such as the Social Security Administration and the Federal Communications Commission, remain in operation. As well as his expansive social policies, Roosevelt’s assured bearing brought confidence to the distressed public. Although he was unable to walk unassisted because of a debilitating attack of polio he had suffered in 1921, FDR was careful to present himself as a hale and jaunty optimist who was seldom seen without a grin. The President was one of the first national leaders to use the radio as a means of establishing a rapport with the American public. Among his many inspiring pronouncements, the most enduring is from Roosevelt’s first inaugural address: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
When Parks acquired and dedicated the triangle in 1941, its sole feature was a flagpole. The bronze sculpture that now ornaments Roosevelt triangle was donated by the Peter Putnam-Mildred Andrews Fund in 1976. This abstract piece, constructed from welded bronze plate and known as the Harlem Hybrid, is the work of Richard Hunt. Hunt is an African American artist with an international reputation. He has produced a number of public sculptures, most in his native Chicago, in a career that has spanned over thirty years. In New York, Hunt has exhibited his work at the Museum of Modern Art and the Studio Museum of Harlem. Although Hunt’s work is purely abstract and usually executed in metal or discarded machine-made parts, admirers find consistent evocations of plant life and geological formations in his work.
In September 2000, Parks completed an extensive $65,179 renovation of the triangle. The funding went to new sidewalks, benches, a steel fence, and a plethora of new plant life. A few trees and 354 shrubs were planted including, Crimson Pygmy (Berberis thunbergii), Rockspray Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horisontalis), Shrubby Cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa). The Harlem Hybrid, which illustrates Hunt’s tendency to take inspiration from nature is perfectly suited to nestle among the trees in this small public plot consecrated to the memory of a New Yorker of great distinction.