The design and construction of a new building on the grounds of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and the FDR Home is an historic achievement. For in this project, the chosen architect and builderthe New York firm of R.M. Kliment and Frances Halsband Architects and U.W. Marx of Troy, New Yorkfollow closely in the footsteps of Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was Roosevelt himself, who, working with a variety of architects, exerted his architectural will in the creation of a long list of noteworthy buildings. These include first of all his own home, Springwood, whose expansion he oversaw in 1914, followed a decade later by the construction of Eleanor Roosevelts cottage, Val-Kill, and Hyde Parks public library in 1926. The New Deal years saw the exercise of his architectural prerogative in the construction of post offices and public schools throughout the Hudson Valleyin Poughkeepsie, Rhinebeck, Ellenville, Saugerties, Wappingers Falls and, most of all, Hyde Park. In 1939-40 FDR built the two buildings closest to his heart, his retirement retreat, Top Cottage and his own Presidential Library, the nations first.
Roosevelt himself drew the first plans for the Library and worked closely with the governments architect, Louis Simon, who was given the challenging task of finishing what the President had started. After construction began, FDR visited the site often to confer with the builder, John McShain of Morristown, New Jersey. Even as war clouds gathered, no detail was too small for FDRs scrutiny. Stonework, fences, archival stacks, light fixtures, nothing escaped his meticulous gaze. In the nations capital his influence was felt in the construction of the National Archives, National Gallery, and the Jefferson Memorial. Not since the time of Thomas Jefferson had the nation seen a more architecturally active and sophisticated president.
On November 15, 2003 the first new building on the grounds of the historic Roosevelt estate, the Henry A. Wallace Visitor and Education Center, was dedicated as an addition to the Presidential Library. It serves as a joint visitor and education center for those who visit the Presidential Library and the Home of FDR National Historic Site. It is a project of the National Archives and Records Administration, which operates the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. The National Park Service and the private non-profit Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute are project partners. Private funders include the Wallace Genetic Foundation, The Dyson Foundation, the Seymour and Vivian Milstein Foundation, and The Kerr Foundation.
In planning the Henry A. Wallace Visitor and Education Center, the new building had to be much more than a functional center for visitor amenities and meeting facilities. It had to reflect the importance FDR placed on structures that grace the natural environment and pay homage to the indigenous materials he prized as testimony to the enduring values of Americas founders. While we may not attach the same moral and educational weight to architecture today, those who planned and built this 21st century addition to Roosevelts historic Hyde Park estate have sought to echo his respect for traditional architecture and the relationship between the built environment and the natural world.
In describing the project architect Frances Halsband said FDRs design for the first presidential library was an inspiration and a starting point for our design. The Visitor Center is a new interpretation of the Dutch architecture of the Hudson Valley, transformed for our century, our needs, and our sensibilities. The design incorporates fieldstone walls, tall gabled roofs and sheltering porches into a grouping of public pavilions which frame a courtyard and form a welcoming gateway to the historic site. We hope that all visitors, scholars, children, guests, will find their own special place in the Wallace Center, enveloped by the landscapes which shaped so much of FDRs own experience and perspectives.
The Architect and the Builder
The firm of R.M.Kliment & Frances Halsband Architects was tasked with the challenging job of creating a new, modern building that reflects Franklin Roosevelts appreciation and attention to the areas historic past. Founded in 1972, this award-winning firm has designed civic, commercial, educational, historic, cultural, and residential buildings throughout the United States and was selected in a nationwide search for Design Excellence by the General Services Administration. Among its projects, the firm has designed buildings for Columbia University, Dartmouth College, the State Universities of New York, Yale University, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Foundation, and the James Roosevelt House.
The Wallace Center was built by U.W. Marx, a construction company based in Troy, New York. Started in 1948 by German immigrant Ulrich Marx, U.W. Marx is the fifth largest General Contractor in upstate New York and was recently listed as one of the top twenty-five fastest growing private companies in the Capital Region.
(all above images courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum)