Roosevelt Island, formerly known as Welfare Island (from 1921 to 1973), and before that Blackwell’s Island, is a narrow island in the East River of New York City. Island is opposite FDR Drive, stretching from Midtown north to Gracie Mansion or from say Manhattan’s East 46th to East 85th street. Roosevelt Island sits between the island of Manhattan to its west and the borough of Queens to its east. 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 and 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.
Though small, Roosevelt Island has a distinguished architectural history. It has several architecturally significant buildings, and has been the site of numerous important unbuilt architectural competitions and proposals. Originally home for New York’s castaways Roosevelt Island once served as New York City’s depository for the gravely sick, the mentally ill, the criminally sentenced or the exiled , but no more. Turned into a planned community the island’s master plan, adopted by the New York State Urban Development Corporation in 1969 is a Utopian style plan developed during the 1960s by famed architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee. The plan divided the island into three residential communities, with its noteworthy no automobiles are allowed clause ; the plan intended for residents to park their cars in a large garage and use public transportation . Another interesting innovation was the plan’s development of a ‘mini-school system,’ in which classrooms for the island’s public intermediate school were integrated among all the residential buildings in a campus-like fashion as opposed to being centralized in one large building.
The northern most point of the island is marked by a lighthouse that overlooks the swirling Hellgate waters. Its construction in 1874, by an asylum inmate John Mc Carthy, who’d built his own clay fort also to defend us against a British invasion.
Actor Al Lewis born Albert Meister, the American actor best known for his role as “Grandpa” on the television series The Munsters and later in life, also a restaurant owner, political candidate, and radio broadcaster was one of Roosevelt Islands most famous residents. Al Lewis was also known as the the unofficial mayor of Roosevelt Island.