Roosevelt Island is a trendy neighborhood in New York City located right at the center of the East River, halfway in the middle of Queens and Manhattan. Before becoming a chic residential district, Roosevelt Island held convicts within its garrisons and the mentally ill within its asylums.
Roosevelt Island was called several names before it became known as it is today. The Native American who initially lived here dubbed the island as Minnahanock. It was then renamed to Hogs? Island from 1637 to 1685, and then it was renamed to Blackwell?s Island inspired by the Blackwell Farmhouse from 1686 to 1921. From 1921 to 1973, it was called Welfare Island due to the several asylums and hospitals that were found here.
The asylums and prisons found here made Roosevelt Island popular. The jails, which include Welfare Penitentiary, held several infamous names. Some of them, just to name a few, were actress Mae West who was detained here for vulgar behavior in 1927; singer Billy Holliday who was imprisoned after she was found soliciting; and gangster Dutch Schultz.
The asylums on Roosevelt Island had a wicked reputation of being badly managed and brutal. During the mid-1800s, famous writer Charles Dickens wrote about this cruelty while reporter Nellie Bly disguised as a patient at the Women?s Lunatic Asylum as part of an expose of the unkindness that took place in the said facility.
The island was officially named Roosevelt Island in 1973 to pay tribute to former U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt. Initially, a proposal to put up memorial in honor of the late president was also put forward. However, the plan was never realized. When the 1980s and the 1990s arrived, Roosevelt Island began to take shape as a residential district with the emergence of several amenities like retail stores and hospitals and a few skyscrapers. Currently, Roosevelt Island is one of the most posh addresses in NYC where several celebrities live as well as a small community of foreign diplomats because of Roosevelt Island?s closeness to the United Nations headquarters.
Architecture enthusiasts will easily recognize that Roosevelt Island possesses a unique architectural aesthetic which is best seen in the older structures still standing on the island. Northtown, the pioneering neighborhood built here boasts of buildings designed by highly acclaimed architects such as former Harvard School of Design dean Josep Lluis Sert.
Going down Roosevelt Island, the Southtown phase is on its way to completion. Structures here are conceptualized by Gruzen Samton following the post-modern aesthetic. Southtown is regarded because it ushered in new retail attractions to Roosevelt Island which include several dining destinations.
The original structures which withstood the test of time underwent renovations. One of these is ?The Octagon? which was also the site of the New York Lunatic Asylum. It is now a designated national landmark. It is also the pioneering ?green? structure on the island and today is an upscale apartment complex. Another old structure currently undergoing restorations is Renwick ruins which was previously Smallpox Hospital wherein a new park is being designed around it.
While it is found directly underneath the Queenboro Bridge, it is not reachable via the bridge and majority of Roosevelt Island continues to be free of automobile as it was originally planned. There is a tram which could be used to go around the island. Apart from this, there is also an aerial tramway which connects Midtown Manhattan to the island. The tram goes as high as 250 feet offering passengers a beautiful vista of Midtown.