David Stone
An Historic Landmark: Blackwell House, from the Real Front
An Historic Landmark: Blackwell House, from the Real Front
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

It’s not news to Roosevelt Island residents that visits from tourists and even other New Yorkers are increasing.

We overhear them puzzling over where to go when they leave the Tram. Some, unaware of what the community has to offer beyond exciting skyline views, circle right back on the Tram for a return to Manhattan.

What’s missing is what we once had when the island was less densely populated and earned less publicity: a guide for visitors, showing them where they can find the historic sites, parks, playgrounds, food and views that make Roosevelt Island a location like no other. 

Printed maps with highlights like those my wife and I were handed when we came as visitors the first time aren’t feasible or environmentally sound. So, what the Daily will offer is an online guide, accessible from our homepage, that is free and will be routinely updated.

Let’s get started. 

Coming to Roosevelt Island

Whether arriving by Tram or subway, you set foot on Roosevelt Island at a poorly marked location with little to help you figure out where to go. 

FDR Four Freedoms Park has invested in signs posted conveniently, but if your place of interest is anywhere else, you’re pretty much out of luck. That’s where this guide comes in.

A quick caution for those of you exiting the Tram: at peak periods, especially on weekends, Visitor Center signs mounted in giant flower post will come at you like roadside attractions in the Nevada wilderness. Ignore them.

Entering the Visitor Center, which is operated by the Historical Society and has the expected slant, before getting around the island is a lot like being forced to make a circuit through the gift shop before having a meal at Serendipity III or Tavern on the Green. 

Why buy knickknacks, books or T-shirts before you get a feel for the place?

Besides, FDR Four Freedoms is an international attraction with a nifty gift shop all their own you’ll find more relevant.

Red Buses: You’ll see them picking up passengers at both the Tram and Subway. They are free. As commuter buses for local residents, they don’t offer the best experience for tourists. They are often crowded and, by design, visit only the residential complexes.

Where to go?

The Tram and the Roosevelt Island subway station are a short distance apart and offer similar choices. If you need a bite to eat, Riverwalk Bar & Grill, Fuji East and others are steps from the subway. Or you can follow Main Street into the center of town where takeout and sit-down meals are available.

More on those later, but your main choices are between going south to have a look at Cornell Tech’s game-changing new campus, two scenic parks filling the tip of the island or taking a walk north, like most of us who live here do, and seeing multiple historic landmarks and the exceptional community that’s grown up around them.

Whichever you chose, stick to the Manhattan side of our narrow island and appreciate the classic views all along the paved promenade.

If You Go South

Immediately past the Queensborough Bridge, which soars overhead without letting anyone exit, you find enough to fill an afternoon or more, starting with Cornell Tech. One caution: while the university remains under construction, food choice are few south of the subway.

While Cornell Tech remains under construction until 2017, your only way to travel to locations south of the bridge is by using the west promenade that takes you under the shade of cherry trees. Plentiful benches align the route along with views of Sutton Place and Turtle Bay, as Manhattan slopes down toward the United Nations, are as genteel as any remaining in the city.

 

 

While construction continues at Cornell, limiting roadway use, walking to and from these locations is usually your only options. Set aside at least a couple of hours to see everything, more if you want to enjoy walking the parks or sitting to appreciate Manhattan views from the calmer confines of Roosevelt Island.

If You Go North

For those of us who live on Roosevelt Island, the real action is from the Tram north to Lighthouse Park. This is where all the restaurants and shops are found and most of the historic sites.

Unfortunately and at least partly due to poor decisions in the planned community design, not enough is made of the historic sites available along Main Street and beyond. We will do what we can to correct that, here.

North of the subway and Southtown’s last building you see Roosevelt Island’s traditional community center. The first buildings are all here, grounded alongside historic sites on Main Street.

The mix can feel uncomfortable, a sense of designs not quite fitting together. You will also notice that the Main Street Plan turns everything inside out and incompatible with the logical environment.

You do have a choice here. You can take the promenade on the Manhattan side all the way to the tip of the island, but we recommend saving that for a casual return trip.

 

Comments and suggestions that help others appreciate their visits here are welcome below. Regular updates will keep this page fresh.

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