Roosevelt Island, formerly known as Welfare Island, and before that Blackwell's Island, is a narrow island in the East River of New York City. It lies between the island of Manhattan to its west and the borough of Queens to its east. Running from Manhattan's East 46th to East 85th streets, it is about two miles long, with a maximum width of 800 feet, and a total area of 147 acres. The island is part of the Borough of Manhattan and New York County.
The land is owned by the city, but was leased to the State of New York's Urban Development Corporation for 99 years in 1969. Most of the residential buildings on Roosevelt Island are rental buildings. One (Rivercross) is a cooperative. One (Riverwalk Place) is a condo. One rental building (Eastwood) has left New York State's Mitchell-Lama affordable housing program, though current residents are protected. Three other buildings are now working toward privatization, including the cooperative.
Before colonization, the island was called Minnahononck (sometimes spelled Minnahanock) by the aboriginal Indians. In 1637, the Dutch purchased the island from the natives and named it Varckens (Hogs') Island. It was named Manning's Island after captain John Manning between 1666 and 1686, Blackwell's Island between 1686 and 1921, and Welfare Island between 1921 and 1973. Throughout the 19th century, various hospitals, asylums, and correctional institutions were located on the island. Welfare Penitentiary (where entertainer Mae West once served time) was closed in 1935 after the completion of a new penitentiary on Rikers Island. (At least one source claims the island was named "Flynn's Island" prior to being renamed Blackwell's Island.)
In 1973, the island was renamed again in anticipation of the building of a major United States Presidential Memorial to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The monument was intended - in part - to make the island more attractive to potential residents and visitors. It was planned as a large three-walled granite room open to the sky and facing the water at the island's southern tip, with the Four Freedoms inscribed on one wall. Owing primarily to the untimely death of the architect, Louis Kahn, the memorial was never built. Some still hope to complete the project despite the construction of a Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in the nation's capital. An alternative proposal involving calling for a large public plaza at the site also has been halted.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the island was developed as a residential community with a number of high-rise apartment buildings. Two long-term medical care facilities of Goldwater Hospital are located at opposite ends of the island. Many foreign diplomats live on Roosevelt Island because of its close proximity to United Nations headquarters on the East Side of Manhattan. Residents are members of a Residents Association (RIRA), and the Island is served by a fortnightly community newspaper, The Main Street WIRE, and by a resident-operated website, NYC10044.com at http://nyc10044.com.
The island's masterplan , adopted in 1969, divided the island into three residential communities and forbade the use of automobiles on the island. It was intended that residents would park their cars at a large garage and use public transportation to circulate. Another innovation was the plan's development of a 'mini-school system' in which classrooms for the island's public intermediate school were distributed among all the residential developments, in a campus-like fashion (as opposed to being centralized in one large building).
The first phase of Roosevelt Island's development was called "Northtown." It consists of four housing complexes: Eastwood, Island House, Rivercross, and Westwood (also known as the WIRE buildings). Rivercross is a Mitchell-Lama co-op, while the rest of the buildings in Northtown are rentals. Eastwood, the largest apartment complex on the island, and Westwood were designed by noted architect Josep Lluis Sert, then dean of Harvard Graduate School of Design. Eastwood, along with Peabody Terrace (in Cambridge, MA), is a prime example of Sert's investigations into high-rise multiple-dwelling residential buildings. It achieves a remarkable level of efficiency by triple-loading corridors with duplex apartment units, such that elevators and public corrdiors are only needed every three floors. Island House and Rivercross were noteworthy for their use of pre-fabricated cladding systems.
In 1989, the next complex of buildings arrived on Roosevelt Island called Manhattan Park and was created in a pseudo-historical post-modern style. In 2006 the old Octagon mental instutution was reopened as luxary condos and, currently, the island is in the middle of a massive project named Southtown, which involves the construction of nine new buildings in the area between the original WIRE buildings and the Tram.
All information obtained from Wikipedia's entry on Roosevelt Island and edited by Greg Goodman