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Open Letter in Response to the Tidal Basin Ideas Lab Public Comment Period

  • Feb - 10 - 2021

February 10, 2021

Open Letter in Response to the Tidal Basin Ideas Lab Public Comment Period


Paul Edmondson, President and CEO, National Trust for Historic Preservation

Margaret Everson, National Park Service

Timothy J. McClimon, President, American Express Foundation

Kristopher Takacs, Washington DC Office, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Catherine Townsend, President & CEO, Trust for the National Mall


We appreciate the attention being brought to preserving our nation’s memorials in the vicinity of the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC through the Tidal Basin Ideas Lab.  This letter responds to the call for public comments to the five designs released in October 2020.  We were pleased to have the opportunity to consult with Robert Niewig and Kendra Parzen of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in October 2020.  Following that discussion, we issued the following statement:

FDR memorial shown underwaterIt is concerning that the project started with a lack of inclusion in the process and is now presenting alarming images to the public of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Rev. Martin Luther King Memorials.  Both are shown underwater.  FDR is allowed – in the words of the designer “to become a ruin”.  Other proposals move the Memorials and reduce the FDR Memorial in size.  

We understand that no one design is being chosen at this time and that it is considered early in the process of deciding how to proceed with the Tidal Basin and the surrounding Memorials.  Nonetheless, the images of treasured Memorials being left to ruin and overtaken by waters at any point in this process is unconscionable.  That such proposals have been allowed into a public comment phase shows an incredible lack of regard for these Memorials, the legacies for whom they are built, and the work of many to ensure the rightful places of the Memorials in our Nation’s Capital.

MLK memorial shown underwaterBoth the FDR and MLK Memorials are national reminders of extraordinary people who represent important, multiple constituencies.  To allow either of them to be left “a ruin” or submerged in water is insulting to them, to us - their admirers, and to future generations of Americans and global visitors who would benefit from knowing them as symbols of courage and strength over adversity.

There may be elements of the designs that are useful and in fact necessary given the rising tides and other challenges.  However, the images presented of the FDR and MLK Memorials to be taken by flooding waters and or decay are wrong, insensitive, and, in light of the careful presentation of other design elements such as preservation of the cherry trees, contentious.

We will await the results from this public comment period and continue to closely follow the Tidal Basin Ideas Lab process. 


Jane S. Deland   Jim Dickson  Mary E. Dolan          

Co-Founders, FDR Memorial Legacy Committee

Senator Tom Harkin (Retired)

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt

Christopher D. Roosevelt, Esq.

Christopher Bell, Esq.

Helena Berger   

Kelly Buckland

Steven Graham

Serena Jaros

I King Jordan, Ph.D.

Arlene King-Berry, J.D.                          

John D. Kemp, Esq.   

Christine Liao


Clifford L. Muse, Jr., Ph.D.       

Katherine Ott, Ph.D.

Mary Kay Turner                    

William Raimondo       

David Woolner, Ph.D.