Image from octagonnyc.com
Another one of New York's smaller islands is Roosevelt Island. The Island is located in between Manhattan and Queens in the East River. The only way to get to and from Roosevelt Island is by tram, subway (the F Train) or by the Roosevelt Island Bridge.
Despite its seeming obscurity, Roosevelt Island is a day trip destination in New York for residents and savvy tourists.
The island was named Blackwell Island named after Robert Blackwell, son of British captain John Manning, in 1686. Since then it has been used for a prison, an insane asylum, and two smallpox’s hospital. The island was once again renamed Welfare Island in 1921.
In 1973 it was renamed Roosevelt Island and began its residential re-development with construction of the first apartment complex, Eastwood
The Roosevelt Island Tram
We begin our tour in Manhattan at The Roosevelt Island Tram station at 59th Street and 2nd Avenue. The Roosevelt Island Tramway began operating in to serve as temporary means of transit to and from the island during the construction of the Roosevelt Island subway stop on the F train (which when completed in 1989 was thirteen years late).
Though, it quickly became a unique mode of transportation and developed into the very icon of Roosevelt Island. It's appeared many times on the big screen, most recently in the 2002 movie Spiderman. In 1984, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) was created incorporating the tramway and bus service as part of its transit service plans.
As the tramcar silently glides toward Roosevelt Island it offers breath-taking views of the east side of Manhattan and the city during the ride. Even though it may seem dangerous to travel via tramway, which is suspended 250 feet over the river, there have been only 2 safety scares.
One in 1998 when a crane working on the Queensboro Bridge hit a passing tram car and another one just this year in April when both the inbound and outbound tram cars stalled for hours over the East River leaving a total of 68 people stranded with no way out. After passenger's realized they were not in any immediate danger they passed the hours it would take rescue crews to reach them by telling stories, jokes, talking with relatives on cell phones and even signing songs in one car.
That incident put the tram out of service from April 19th to Sep 1st while officials tested the tramway for any safety hazards. It has been running smoothly since then.
Ride the tram and see the views.
A few minutes later the tram arrives at the Roosevelt Island Tram Terminal.
All the buses owned and operated by the RIOC are painted red, which has lead to them simply being called Red Bus. Currently, the RIOC is updating the buses to run on hybrid electric power. Fare is only 25 cents and is free for students.
The latest housing development, Southtown (currently rising on the southern portion of the island) broke ground in 2001. 2,000 new units are expected to be completed, one of the largest residential development projects in recent New York history. The building's are more attractive than the other housing on the island from the mid 70's. They offer spectacular views of Manhattan, a just steps away from the river and minutes from Midtown. In addition, the area will be landscaped with tranquil parks, softball and soccer fields. Take a vitrual tour of a typical Southtown apartment. (Requires Quicktime)
The other apartments on the island which were built in the 70's are very blocky, bulky, and cold. The stores on the bottom are all uniform in appearance and even signage. The brutalist style makes for an odd walk down Main Street. The SimCity buildings used as the apartments look nicer than their real world counterparts.
The former Blackwell Island Smallpox Hospital (now known as Renwick Ruins) was built in 1856 on the Southern tip of the island. James Renwick, architect of St. Patrick's Cathedral, designed it. It was used a smallpox hospital until 1875 when it was converted into a city hospital, though it was abandoned in the 50's. Now a chain link fence surrounding the property and it is illegal to trespass on the site due to concerns about the structural soundness of the structure. Though, urban explorer's still trespass looking for thrills and chills.
Renwick Ruins lit up at night by spotlights.
The Blackwell family farmhouse is the oldest building on Roosevelt Island dating back to 1796 and sits on its original site. Today, it serves as a community center even though it is under going more restoration and repair.
FDNY Special Operations Command
Roosevelt Island is also home to one of the FDNY's special command centers. Outside a reserve fire engine and a marine unit wait for duty.
The Chapel of the Good Shepherd
Built between 1816-1896 the Chapel of the Good Shepherd was recently restored and rededicated by the city. It is the oldest church on the island.
Roosevelt Island’s main thoroughfare is host to many shop's, restaurant’s and other services for residents. Motorgate is just barely visible on the left side of the picture.
Roosevelt Island Bridge
Also known as Welfare Island Bridge opened in 1955 connects the island to Queens and lifts to allow boats to pass under. It is the only way for cars to get on the island.
Another historical house. A home dating back to the Revolutionary War era.
Located at the northern end of Roosevelt Island
The Octagon has a long and colorful history. It served as a pavilion for the city's lunatic asylum, which opened in 1839 (the rest of the U-shaped complex was demolished in the 70's).
In 1894, due to over crowding in the asylum patients were moved to a bigger facility on Ward's Island. The former asylum was turned into a city hospital until it was shut down in the 1950's (many of the building's on the island were abandoned for larger spaces in Manhattan).
Lying dormant and unused for three decades the Octagon fell into disrepair and suffered two fires throughout the 90's, which destroyed the dome, which crowned the structure.
Now the landmark the Octagon is being restored and rehabilitated by developer Bruce Becker as a luxury waterfront apartment complex, which will include an outdoor pool, tennis courts and a fitness center. You can learn more about the project at dexigner.com
Finally, some of you will notice The Octagon in the screenshot is represented by Radcliffe Camera at Oxford University (model created by Caliban), it's not a perfect match but it is similar, yet more beautiful than The Octagon. You can download it here.
The Roosevelt Island Lighthouse
Our last stop on our tour of Roosevelt Island is The Roosevelt Island Lighthouse . The small lighthouse's was constructed in 1872 designed by James Renwick, Jr. It is rumored that a patient of the asylum is to have assisted in the construction of the lighthouse and even scrawled an ominous warning to visitors on a plaque. Though, the plaque was stolen in the 60's and it is questionable a patient of the asylum would have assisted with the construction of much of anything.
Nonetheless, today it is still used today to guide boats along the East River and is a unique landmark on the oasis in the middle of New York City that is Roosevelt Island.
That's it for our tour of Roosevelt Island if you'd like to learn more about Roosevelt Island or just want to see more pictures you can visit the links below:
Roosevelt Island Historical Society
Forgotten New York's Tour of Roosevelt Island
Roosevelt Island Timeline