FDR Monument designed by Lawrence Halprin

The passing of Lawrence Halprin covered half the front page of the SF Chronicle today. There were many color photos of his architectural creations. My heart goes out to Anna, Daria, and Rana in their loss. Years ago at my sister Wendy’s house I had a conversation with Larry about the creative process. I didn’t know him well, but since his daughter, Rana, was in my art class I taught at Urban School, I had taken the class on a tour of his architectural offices in San Francisco. This was the late 1960’s and his firm had created Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley, and was working on Ghiradelli Square and Sea Ranch and many

other noteworthy sites.FDR Memorial

Maybe it was the intensity in his voice, or his charisma – or both – but the words he spoke are still with me. “If you want to create using objects, space, and the environment, which is what architects do – be a sculptor. To get anything built, you need to be a politician.” He had just gotten the FDR monument approved, after years of working on it. “How was that?” I wanted to know. He said he had gone to Washington and sat on the grass at the national mall and contemplated what a memorial to FDR might be. He let me know that quiet time was a vital part of the process. A few years later, I was in D.C. with my eleven year old son, Solomon, taking him to visit Uncle Willy, my senator uncle. Larry’s words were still with me, but there was no FDR monument, and as we walked over to the Air and Space Museum, I remembered that conversation. I wouldn’t have seen the construction, on the narrow strip between the Tidal Basin and the Potomac River, flanked by cherry trees, since we stayed on the rectangular green between the Washington Monument and the Capital.


The time line of this project is impressive: approved in 1978, construction began in 1982, and (according to the SF Chronicle) it was completed in 1997. What a long, long time to hold a concentration! I remember watching a news special that year and seeing the FDR Monument unveiled, and an interview with Larry. I was stunned by the nearly two decades that had passed since he spoke to me about it. Then, years later (2006), in the city for my uncle’s memorial, I walked the tidal basin with my older son, Ammon, at the peak of the pink blossoms. I stood upon those terraces of stone, with trees, statues, falling water and pockets of quiet space. I would have liked to go back at night, but never did. His wife, Anna, said after his death, “He always wanted to do the most magnificent, uplifting thing he could. He strove for the ideal, and nothing less.” <>               Rest in peace, Larry.

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