A Roosevelt Tour of New York

U.S. presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt left an indelible mark on New York state, which they each governed, and New York City in particular. If you're visiting the Big Apple and don't know where to start, a self-guided Roosevelt tour can help direct your feet and satisfy your inner history buff.

The biggest question facing any NYC traveller is where to stay. We can keep that in the family. The Roosevelt Hotel (45 East 45th Street and Madison Avenue) provides a reasonably priced option with Jazz Era ambience. Its Midtown location also makes for a convenient jumping-off point for the Empire State Building, Times Square and Grand Central Station.

Opening in 1924, the hotel was named in honor of Theodore, who died five years earlier and remained phenomenally popular. As president (1901-1909), he broke up monopolies, expanded the national parks program and built the Panama Canal.

Exterior of the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site, where the future president lived until age 14.

Head south from the hotel to where it all began: the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace (28 East 20th Street), where Teddy lived until he was 14. The original brownstone was torn down in 1916, but after his death was reconstructed and opened to the public in 1924. The interior is currently undergoing a US$3.7 million renovation and is expected to reopen for tours early next year.

Further south in NoHo, take in the bohemian vibe and excellent lunch options before checking out the site of the old police headquarters at 300 Mulberry Street, where Theodore served as president of the board of the New York City Police Commissioners. (The space is now occupied by a rental building.)

He proved so popular rooting out police corruption that when he gave a speech for his presidential campaign, the Great Hall at Cooper Union college (7 E. 7th St.) couldn't accommodate all who wanted in.

Theodore Roosevelt's family living room. The house's interior is expected to reopen early next year after renovations

A gigantic bronze statue of Theodore on horseback greets you outside the American Museum of Natural History (Central Park W and 79th Street). His father was one of the facility's founders, and young Teddy often roamed its halls. The entrance is now comprised of the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall, which features a life-size statue of Teddy inviting you to sit beside him.

A great naturalist, he donated numerous items to the museum, from a Snowy Owl he mounted as a teenager to elephants he and his son Kermit hunted in Africa on their famed 1909 expedition. An exhibit traces his efforts to protect American wildlife environments, which is why he's known as the "Preservation President."


Theodore's polio-stricken fifth cousin FDR ended Prohibition and saw his country through the Great Depression and World War II in a record four presidential terms (1933-1945). And like his relative, FDR spent early parts of his career in Manhattan.   

Walk across Central Park to Roosevelt House (47-49 East 65th Street), where he and his wife (and distant cousin) Eleanor moved with their two children in 1908, his doting mother Sara living next door. The building is now owned by public university Hunter College, which the family avidly supported.

Newly renovated, Roosevelt House offers guided tours for individuals and groups (Find details at http://www.roosevelthouse.hunter.cuny.edu/tours/.) Guests can view family memorabilia, photographs, and documents, and see where FDR concocted the New Deal to help get the country back on its feet.   

But he had other places of employ before the Oval Office. Down in the Financial District take note of 2 Wall Street, home of the Carter Ledyard & Milburn firm, where he began his law career. State politics took him and Eleanor to Albany, and then it was off to Washington, D.C. to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

But after a failed bid at the vice presidency, FDR returned to New York to take on  the role of VP of the Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland at the Equitable Building (120 Broadway). Soon afterwards he contracted polio and would come to work with leg braces and crutches. Step inside the 38-story neoclassical edifice—once the world's largest office building – and marvel at the lobby's coffered ceiling and marble floors that are so shiny they once caused FDR to slip and fall.

After a frantic day of consuming all this history, the Madison Club Lounge back at the Roosevelt Hotel is the ideal spot for consuming the evening's last cocktail. And if you want to raise a glass in honor of the Roosevelt cousins, Teddy's favorite was a mint julep, while FDR preferred gin martinis.    


Published Saturday, August 1st 2015

Header image credit: The Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside the American Museum of Natural History.



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