April 16, 2010

The Mystery of Roosevelt Island

For me, the mystery of Roosevelt Island is located not in the creepy ruins of an abandoned small pox hospital or grounds of an infamous insane asylum but in the name of the island itself. Why was this slip of land in the middle of the East River named after Franklin Roosevelt? The answer was revealed this week when the NY Times announced that a memorial to FDR is under construction on island's southern tip....a memorial that has been nearly 40 years in the making.

This two mile spit of land barely 800 feet wide was originally named Welfare Island then Blackwell's Island. However, it was not a place you'd want to visit, home to violent prisoners, the mentally insane and the mortally ill for more than 100 years. In the 1960's, plans were made to redevelop the island and make it livable, with affordable housing and a tram line to connect it to Manhattan. In 1973, the island got it's presidential moniker when plans were announced for a memorial and historical center designed by famed architect Louis Kahn. Then the city nearly went bankrupt and the project was put on indefinite hold. Until now...

Last month, ground was broken for the memorial, pictured above, which will grace the tip of the island directly across from the United Nations (an FDR legacy). The official groundbreaking will happen this summer and the first phase of the memorial along with some beautiful new parks should be open to the public by summer 2011.