Even though Manhattan is an island, Roosevelt Island is an island in the borough of Manhattan. I was slouching around the southern end of the island this past week, as I’m fascinated with the NYC talismanic objects that somehow have accreted around the tramway landing area just north of the subway exit. This part of the island has undergone peculiar dynamism of late, as new residential towers have opened and more are currently being built. The new Southpoint Park has been landscaped around some old buildings and ruins, and it was my intention to scope out the new Four Freedoms memorial and its remembrance of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for whom the island was renamed in the mid-1970s.
In addition, the Goldwater campus of the Coler-Goldwater Hospital is being demolished to make way for a new Cornell University Graduate School of Technology. The Bird S. Coler Hospital on the northern end of the island is now the last remaining of Roosevelt Island’s collection of mental hospitals and facilities treating infectious diseases.
I was stymied because today was Tuesday and a number of things on Roosevelt Island close on Tuesday. Who would have guessed?
One of my particular quarries today was one of what was originally five exquisite entrance and exit kiosks, rendered in beautiful Beaux Arts terra cotta, that used to stand at 2nd Avenue and East 60th Street where trolleys from Queens let out, or accepted passengers from an underground station.
One of the kiosks, now the Roosevelt Island Visitor Center, is dwarfed by the Queensboro/59th Street/Ed Koch Bridge, as well as one of the huge stanchions that carry the tramway wires.
The bridge was one of the last bastions of trolley traffic in Manhattan, as the line that left people of midspan, to be carried by elevator to the island, was among the last to be shuttered in the late 1950s.
Both kiosks, this one and one that has been allowed to remain on 2nd Avenue, go all the way back to the year the Queensboro opened in 1909. Trolley service to the bridge ended in 1957 when the Welfare Island, now Roosevelt Island Bridge opened to Astoria.
Thus the five Beaux Arts kioks were orphaned. Three were executed, one remained in place, and one was shuffled off in 1970 to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum in Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Brower Park, where it was used as the main entrance. However it was in danger of being discarded when the Museum planned a complete renovation by famed architect Rafael Viñoly.
However, at the intercession of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society’s Judy Berdy, who worked with the BCM and several other agencies, in 2006 the kiosk was transported here to the very spot where the trolley elevator landing was once located, where it now serves as the Roosevelt Island Historical Society‘s visitor center…
…except on Tuesdays, when it’s closed.