Feb. 12, 2006 – A small group of individuals assembled late Saturday morning at Franklin D. Roosevelt Park to attend a groundbreaking ceremony and reflect on the park's rich history and significance in their lives.
The park, which is currently being reconstructed, had no resemblance now to the place the group – mostly members of We From Upstreet Inc., the American Legion and area residents – grew up playing in.
However, those who came to partake in the groundbreaking ceremony hoped that FDR Park would once again be a place of significance in the lives of Virgin Islanders to come.
Ruth Moolenaar, former educator and founding member of We From Upstreet, gave a brief presentation on the historic significance of the park.
Moolenaar told the gathering that the park, originally known as Coconut Square, was renamed Franklin D. Roosevelt Park in 1945.
"After his visit to the Virgin Islands in 1934, President Roosevelt pledged to help develop the Virgin Islands," Moolenaar said, adding that after his death in 1945, the park was named in his honor.
Moolenaar said the park was a "safe and beautiful place" for area residents. Throughout the years, private individuals and organizations such as We From Upstreet helped to maintain the park.
Currently the park's renovation is sponsored primarily by a $500,000 donation from Richard Driehaus Capital Management. The V.I. Energy Office has also provided a $50,000 grant for improved lighting.
"We recommend the original name, Coconut Square, be restored and prominently displayed in the park," Moolenaar said.
However, American Legion member Austin Monsanto had a different idea: he wants the park's name changed to Veterans Park to honor fallen V.I. veterans.
"I think if President Roosevelt was alive today, he would agree with what I would like for this park," Monsanto said.
According to Monsanto, the current Veterans Memorial that was in the park will be transferred to Cruz Bay Park in St. John and a new memorial with five pillars, representing the various branches of the U.S. military, will be erected.
V.I. soldiers who have died on the battlefield will have their name affixed on the corresponding pillar for the unit in which they served, Monsanto said.
"I'm telling you when it's finished, it's going to be first class," Monsanto said.
James O'Bryan, St. Thomas-St. John administrator, said he was born and raised near the park and remembered playing in it as a child. O'Bryan said he remembers asking as a young boy why the park was named Roosevelt Park.
"There is a symbolism in the park being named after Franklin Roosevelt," O'Bryan said. "Franklin D. Roosevelt was a symbol of American civilization. He was a symbol that despite disabilities, men can arise and do great things."
O'Bryan said regardless of how Virgin Islanders decide to name the park, it would always be a place of significance to the territory.
Myron Jackson, director of the V.I. State Historic Preservation Office, said he was looking forward to another ceremony that would be held on the same grounds in a few months – the park's dedication ceremony.
"This is a special place," Jackson said, adding it was one of the few remaining open spaces on this "tiny island" of St. Thomas and more open spaces should be preserved for future generations.
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