NFT New York Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island

Once upon a time, Roosevelt Island was much like the rest of New York--populated by criminals, the sick, and the mentally ill. The difference was that they were the residents of the island's various mental institutions, hospitals, and jails, but these days this slender tract of land between Manhattan and Queens has become prime real estate for families and UN officials.

The 147-acre island, formerly known as "Welfare Island" because of its population of outcasts and the poor, was renamed for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1973, when the island began changing its image. The first residential housing complex opened in 1975. Some of the old "monuments" remain, including the Smallpox Hospital and the Blackwell House (one of the oldest farmhouses in the city), while the Octagon Building, formerly a 19th-century mental hospital known for its deplorable conditions, has been turned into luxury condos (so yes, you're still in New York). Four Freedoms Park, which dusts off a decades-old design by the architect Louis I. Kahn, is a focal point for the southern tip of the island; the putting green-length grass and severe white granite isn't exactly welcoming, but you certainly can't beat that view of East Midtown.See more.

The island's northern tip is a popular destination for fishermen with iron gullets. It's also the home of a lighthouse designed by James Renwick, Jr., of St. Patrick's Cathedral fame. The two rehab/convalescent hospitals on the island don't offer emergency services, so if you're in need of medical attention right away, you're out of luck. The island's main drag, Main Street (where did they come up with the name?), resembles a cement-block college campus circa 1968. Just south, closer to the tram, is a more recent stretch of development that fetches top dollar. Two of these buildings are residences for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Rockefeller and Cornell University employees.

Perhaps the best way to experience the island is to spend a little while on the local shuttle bus that runs the length of the island. You'll see a wonderful mix of folks, some crazy characters, and have a chance to grill the friendly bus drivers about all things Roosevelt Island. Trust us.

How to Get There
Roosevelt Island can be reached by the train, but it's much more fun to take the tram. Plus, your-out-of town friends will love that this is the tram Tobey Maguire saved as Spiderman in the first movie. You can board it with a Metrocard (including an unlimited!) at 60th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan--look for the big hulking mass drifting through the sky. It takes 4 minutes to cross and runs every 15 minutes (every 7 minutes during rush hour) 6 am–2 am, Sunday through Thursday, and 'til 3:30 am on Fridays and Saturdays. To get there by car, take the Queensboro-Ed Koch Bridge and follow signs for the 21st Street-North exit. Go north on 21st Street and make a left on 36th Avenue. Go west on 36th Avenue and cross over the red Roosevelt Island Bridge. There is limited reliable street parking on Roosevelt Island; hit the Motorgate Plaza garage at the end of the bridge at Main Street instead.


This Neighborhood Featured in...
The View from Roosevelt Island

By Emily Pecora
It's not just a pig farm-turned-prison-turned-insane asylum-turned-real estate. This odd little island has been muckraked by Nellie Bly and unhappily visited by a captive Boss Tweed. It's technically part of Manhattan, but a weird little world of its own. With one main street and the absence of addresses, it has been compared to a crappy college campus and Soviet town. Emily Pecora lovingly reports.


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