Roosevelt Island Roosevelt Island was once known for its prisons and asylums, but it is now regarded as a fashionable place to live, situated in the middle of the East River, right between Manhattan and Queens. History Originally called Minnahanock by the Native Americans who resided there, the piece of land now known as Roosevelt Island had a number of other names as well, including Hogs’ Island (1637-1685), Blackwell’s Island (1686-1921) - after the Blackwell Farmhouse, and Welfare Island (1921-1973) - for the hospitals and asylums that were established here. The island is best known as the site of a number of prisons and asylums. The prisons, including Welfare Penitentiary, housed a number of infamous personalities, including actress Mae West, who in 1927 was arrested for lewd behavior; mobster Dutch Schultz; and blues singer Billy Holliday, who was incarcerated after she was caught soliciting. The asylums on the island were known for being particularly cruel and badly run. Author Charles Dickens wrote about them back in the mid 1800s and journalist Nellie Bly went undercover at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum in order to expose the horrific goings-on there. In 1973, the island was renamed in honor of Franklin D. Roosevelt. A memorial to the former president was planned but was never completed. By the 1980s and 90s, the island began to develop as a residential community with the addition of a number of skyscrapers and amenities for the convenience of the residents, such as hospitals and shopping facilities. Today, it is a tony place to live and is home to a number of celebrities and quite a few foreign diplomats who enjoy close proximity to the UN by living on the island. Buildings and Architecture Architecture aficionados will tell you that Roosevelt Island has its own distinct architectural style, evident in the older buildings on the island. The island’s first residential development, Northtown, features structures by some notable architects, including Josep Lluis Sert, a Catalonian who was the dean of the Harvard School of Design.turkeyarena.com The Southtown development is still being completed, with buildings designed by Gruzen Samton in the post-modern style. Southtown has been credited with bringing new retail opportunities to the island, including a number of restaurants. Some of the island’s old landmarks have enjoyed restorations. These include “The Octagon”, otherwise known as the New York Lunatic Asylum. This national landmark is now the first “green” building on Roosevelt Island and serves as a high-end apartment complex. And a new park is being planned around the Renwick ruins (a former Smallpox Hospital) at the southern tip of the island. Getting Around Roosevelt Island sits directly under the Queensboro Bridge but is not accessible from the bridge, and much of the island remains automobile-free, as was originally intended. To get around, residents can hop the Roosevelt Island Tram. The aerial tramway was created in 1976 as a shuttle between the island and midtown Manhattan. Built by a Swiss company, the tram is able to hold 125 persons. The tram rises to a height of 250 ft (76 meter) from where passengers have a great view over Midtown. Alternatively you can take the subway from the island (it’s the deepest subway station in New York) to Manhattan or Queens. In addition, a small inexpensive shuttle takes residents from a number of apartment buildings to the subway or tram stop.