The Blackwell House on Roosevelt Island finally opened for tours after a major renovation of the house. When I had visited Roosevelt Island the last time in 2017, the house was corded off and was not open for touring. It had looked like it was falling apart from the inside out.
The home has now gone through a major renovation. The grounds outside were beautifully landscaped and gave the house a very warm and welcoming entrance to the property. In the middle of the summer, the flowers and trees were all in bloom and it was a nice view from the street. The house is conveniently located in the middle of the island, so…
I decided to take a long walk up Fifth Avenue from the Chelsea when I finished at Soup Kitchen today. I was exhausted from working in the prep kitchen again. I don’t know why I just don’t skip it and concentrate on the walk, but I am very proud to say that I have achieved one of my goals there.
I have exceeded the 2000 hour volunteer threshold. That was a big accomplishment for me as I reached the 1000 hour threshold back in 2011 ( I made the 500 hour threshold in 2007 since joining the Soup Kitchen as a volunteer in 2003). In the old days, that would have meant a silver bowl on accomplishment. Now it means just cut more vegetables and meat.
I got off to a late start on a somewhat gloomy day but it was still warm out and gave me time to really walk the border of the neighborhood. Since I had already done Fifth Avenue, both sides from East 59th Street to East 72nd Street, I decided to walk to East 72nd Street along Fifth again facing the park.
The park is finally coming to life after a cool Spring. It has been odd weather lately. It is either unbearably hot or cloudy and cool. We even had snow in parts of Northern New Jersey three weeks ago. That was really odd this time of year. Now that it is May, Central Park is starting to burst with color and the daffodils and tulips are coming out ahead of their New Jersey counterparts. Flowers always seem to bloom quicker in the park than in the suburbs.
I walked from Fifth Avenue across East 72nd Street past many of the buildings that I had seen before and even in a month, there are some new businesses opening up in the lower 70’s and more buildings slated to come down. As I had commented before, all of the Avenues of the Upper East Side are in a somewhat state of flux. You never know which block will come down next and be replaced by something else.
As I entered East 72nd Street to the end of the street by FDR Drive, it stops in front of those interesting brownstones painted black, which makes them stand out and the dead end with the scenic view and benches right by the hospital at 527 East 72nd Street.
These interesting brick buildings built in 1894 were once tenements and renovated in the 1940’s. You have to turn around and go up two blocks to walk along the Promenade by FDR Drive. You have to walk up to East 74th Street get to the bridge to get you across to the walkway.
The “Black and White’s” tenements now luxury housing at 527 East 72nd Street
There is a small amount of sidewalk between East 74th Street and East 72nd Street but please don’t walk it! There is barely enough room to walk and you are about a foot from the highway and these cars zoom by. Don’t make the attempt! Just walk up the two blocks and you will walk twenty blocks of skyline on Roosevelt Island. On a beautiful day, there is nothing like the view of the East River as the boats pass by.
Once crossing the passage over the FDR Drive, you can walk along the East River on a beautiful day while admiring the buildings on Roosevelt Island. Once you reach the end of it, you are greeted by the ‘East River Roundabout’, a park that ends the walkway for now as the rest of the park project is being completed between East 58th and East 60th Streets.
Look up at the spiral structure above the park that was created by artist, Alice Aycock, an American artist known for her large metal sculptures and was an early artist in the ‘land art’ movement (Wiki). The ‘East River Roundabout’, her 1995 sculpture sits aside the Queensboro Bridge, shows much creative imagination and whimsical ideas of how space can used. Take time to follow the twists and turns, almost like a roller coaster was inspired by the artist’s love of Fred Astaire’s dancing of almost weightless motion.
The structure is part of the bigger complex of Andrew Haswell Green Park, which was dedicated to the city in 1994. The park represented much needed green space in this part of Manhattan. The park is currently in transition as there is more being added to it but after a long walk down the East River, it has nice benches and flowers and a good place to relax. The flowers were just coming into bloom, so it looks beautiful.
Andrew Haswell Green, whom the park is named after, was a 19th Century Urban Planner who among his many accomplishments was one of the key figures in getting such iconic tourist attractions as Riverside Park, Central Park, the Bronx Zoo and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History. He was even the inspiration for the 1898 consolidation of the five boroughs of New York (Wiki). I think that deserves a park being named after him.
The former heliport and waste transfer station is becoming a thing of beauty in a much-congested area of the neighborhood. As you walk down East 59th Street, you will see how the bridge twists and turns its way around the street. The is some beautiful artwork attached to the bridge so try not to miss that. Just don’t try walking on the bridge side of the road as there is no sidewalk and I would not risk the traffic.
To your right starts famous Sutton Place, where most of ‘Old New York Society’ moved after all the old mansions came down. From a distance, you can see all the elegant apartment buildings. To the north of it, the ‘ever changing to new buildings’ York Avenue, in which blocks uptown is going through a building boom.
When passing Second Avenue and East 59th Street, you pass Tramway Plaza, a small park that leads to the Roosevelt Island Tram. This is a trip on a nice day you should not miss (See my review on it on TripAdvisor and on ‘Day Ninety-Five’ of MywalkinManhattan.com).
I had to stop at Bloomingdale’s on the corner of Third Avenue and East 59th Street for a bathroom break. It is one of the few places until you hit Central Park to go to the bathroom in the neighborhood.
The store has changed so much over the years but I still remember it as the place I had my first epiphany of what I wanted to do for a living. It was 1980 and I was a sophomore in high school and went with my mother and my family to see the “China at Bloomingdale’s” festival event. When I walked in the store and saw all the beautiful merchandise and Chinese dancers on the top of display cases, Chinese music and artifacts in the display cases, I knew I wanted to be in retailing.
The store no longer resembles that moment and in fact tries to be more like Saks Fifth Avenue. Still the store has a soft spot for me and I still love roaming the floors at the holidays. Plus, they have several floors of public bathrooms and you don’t want to miss Forty Carrots, their casual restaurant on the top floor for frozen yogurt.
Forty Carrots at Bloomingdale’s New York 1000 Third Avenue
As I exited Bloomingdale’s, I walked the rest of East 59th Street to Central Park and then the length of Central Park West to Columbus Circle and back to Plaza Hotel the around the southern tip of Central Park. The weather started to get gloomy but I continued on.
Most of the livery cabs I passed were standing around gossiping with one another. They are getting more and more expensive. A ride for $100? You have got to be kidding me. I am not surprised that the tourists are balking at this. You just don’t see them as busy as they once were.
I took the long trip now back up East 59th Street and walked back up the way I came, passing the all the sites but from the other side of East 59th Street. There are some interesting restaurants and shops I will have to explore while by the underneath path of the Queensboro Bridge. They seemed to have taken the underpart of the bridge and renovated it.
As I walked up the path facing the East River, I could see further up the river to all the areas I explored and though. I really have covered half the island at this point.
I reached East 72nd Street and with plenty of time to spare, I walked through Central Park and over to the Upper West Side. There were some places that I still wished to explore and I wanted to find that elusive brownstone by the American Museum of Natural History that I wanted to admire again. I found it at 233 West 83rd Street. Really admire the entrance way of the house.
To finish the day off, I visited Malachy’s Donegal Inn bar on 103 West 72nd Street (See TripAdvisor reviews and my blog “DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com) for dinner. I had wanted to try the restaurant one more time before leaving the neighborhood. It was a busy night at the bar with the NBA playoffs and a room full of Boston ex-patriots cheering on the Celtics. I never knew what people from Boston who now live in New York City think of New York City. They were still talking about the Yankee-Red Sox games of 2004. Fourteen years still does not make a difference. It was a great series though.
I sat quietly in the corner eating my dinner. The one thing that I love about Malachy’s is that the food is so reasonable and they give you a nice size meal. I had their Chicken Fingers and Chips ($8.95 plus Cokes-two large, breaded cutlets and about a pound of French Fries) which were really good but the chicken could have been taken out of the fryer amount thirty seconds earlier. Otherwise, I could just about finish my meal it was so big.
With about five Cokes in me after about a five-mile walk, I started to feel much better. You can always feel the vibe of this bar. Just like ‘Cheers’, the regulars really do size you up.
The inside of Malachy’s bar
So, this finished the border of the lower part of the Upper East Side and the middle part of the Upper West Side, so join me as I walk the Streets and Avenues of the lower part of the Upper East Side.
See read my other Blogs on walking the Lower Part of the Upper East Side:
Day One Hundred and Sixteen: Walking the Streets of the Lower Upper East Side:
I took a walking tour of Roosevelt Island with the American Museum of Natural History today. The island is located right off the Upper East Side and is one of the many islands in the New York County area. Roosevelt Island has had its share of problems living there in the past.
Many articles had been written about the island in the 80’s with lack of good housing, lack of stores, the tram not working and not much to do on the island. This has changed like the rest of the city in the last 40 years. There has been so much development and new housing plus on top of the tram, you do have a subway stop in a renovated station. The nice part about the tram is that you can use your subway card to ride it and what a view!
I took the F Train over that morning to meet the rest of the group. I toured with the same tour guide who led us through Inwood two years ago. Unfortunately, his get up and go is not there much these days and he looked like he packed on about 25 pounds since the last tour. Still, we took a geological tour of the island, so I got to see the island in its developed stages as well as the modern stage.
In 2022, it had been five years since I visited Roosevelt Island and there had been changes in construction, businesses being opened and closed since the pandemic and there was now a sense of optimism on the island since visitors were able to return. I did see a lot of tourists on the island which I would have ever thought they would be interested in coming here.
I took the tram over to the island in 2022, which was an experience as it began to rain. The clouds opened up a couple of times while I was touring the island but luckily there are a lot of indoor things to do on the island. I have to say it is quite the view at any time of the year. Looking over the Upper East Side and Sutton Place from the air is very interesting and gives you a different perspective of the Manhattan.
Walking around Roosevelt Island only takes about an hour (or two if you want to just relax and take your time). We started our tour outside the Roosevelt Island Historical Society Center Kiosk on West Road. Here we met the head of the Historical Society and were invited to visit later on after the tour.
On my tour of the island in 2022, I stopped back at the kiosk to talk to the guides and bought a map of the island ($1.00) which I recommend as it is a good guide and a great souvenir. It shows you the location of everything on the island and things you might miss.
The history of Roosevelt Island is interesting. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Island was originally called Minnahannock by the Native Americans and Varkins Island by the Dutch settlers. The island was acquired by the Blackwell family in the late 1600’s, who renamed the land Blackwell Island. The Blackwell’s lived on and farmed it before selling it to the City of New York in 1828 for $30,000 (Wiki/Roosevelt Island Historical Society).
Roosevelt Island in the beginning
In the 19th century, the island was used by the City for institutional facilities, including the Workhouse Penitentiary, Lunatic Asylum, City Hospital and City Home and given the name Welfare Island in 1921. The island was for residents that were out of site out of mind. These institutions gradually being relocated to areas more easily accessible to public transportation.
In 1969, this two-mile island was lease to the State of New York for 99 years. Under New York State’s Urban Development Corporation, Welfare Island became a beacon for the affordable housing movement within the city. Construction of the island community was completed in 1975 with four housing developments. In 1973, the island was renamed Franklin Delano Roosevelt Island (Wiki).
Today, Roosevelt Island has a small town feel with approximately 20 buildings and 14,000 residents. The island is home to six landmarked structures and proudly houses Four Freedoms Park, one of the original visions for the island (Judith Berdy, President Roosevelt Island Visitor Center).
Our first part of the tour was visiting the new Cornell Tech campus on the southern part of the island. This new complex of four buildings is the wave of our university’s urban campus to soon be joined by a new hotel and another tech building (both opened and operating in 2022). The area has been replanted and a new lawn and gardens has been built on a waste deposit site. It’s hard to believe that it is built on a trash mound.
The tour guide explained that this is all reclaimed land. The campus is beautifully set on the island and is located right near the tram and subway station. I got to tour the Bloomberg Building and walk through their new restaurant.
Cornell Tech Campus: Go Red!
In 2022, I stopped at the Cafe at Cornell Tech for a snack. It had been so hot outside that I went in for a cool drink. I ended up buying some of the college’s homemade ice cream from the Agriculture School that is made fresh on campus. The Mango Sorbet ($3.00 for a half pint) really cooled me down and I was ready to go again (See review on TripAdvisor).
Just outside the Cornell campus, I noticed another interesting statue entitled “The Blue Dragon”, a whimsical statue that was designed in an interesting form. It was created by artists Ulla and Gustav Kraitz. The work was meant to be engaged by children to climb on.
Ulla and Gustav Kraitz are Swedish born artists. Gustav Kraitz graduated from the State Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest. Ulla Kraitz was educated at the College of Arts in Sweden. The two met when Mr. Kraitz moved to Stockholm in 1960. They are known for their stylized sculptures of animals and fruits in lustrous and vivid colors (Artist bio).
Past the Cornell campus is South Point Park and the Smallpox Hospital, which is currently laying in ruins. The city is now refurbishing the building, but it will never be reopened as a fire did damage to all of the building. It was behind scaffolding and was not much to look at except for the architecture itself.
The Smallpox Hospital is a Gothic Revival structure designed by American architect James Renwich Jr. and opened to the public on December 18, 1856. It was the first hospital in the country dedicated to treating smallpox, a highly contagious and deadly viral disease.
The original footprint of the Smallpox Hospital was the rectangle central bay, which measured roughly 100 feet by 40 feet and was three stories in height. The building was constructed of granite quarried on the island and was built by prison labor. In 1875, the hospital was renamed Riverside Hospital and in 1886, the building was converted to a nursing school called the Home for the Nurses of the Maternity and Charity Hospital Training School. The northern and southern wings were completed in the early 1900’s in order to provide additional space for classrooms, laboratories and dormitories.
In the 1950’s, the nursing school closed, and the building was abandoned. It was stripped of floors, windows and stairwells. The Gothic ruin has been emptied ever since. What exists today is largely its shell (Roosevelt Island Historical Society at http://www.TheRuin.org).
After the picture taking at the hospital, it was on to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park. It is amazing park located at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island with the most fantastic views of the City. On this clear sunny day, I could see all the way downtown. It was nice to just sit on the steps and just look out on this sunny day.
This is where the tour ended with our guide. I swear the guy looked exhausted and we had only walked the southern part of the island. Our group went on their way while I decided to see the rest of the park and walk the entire island. I started with walking the park.
I admired the FDR Hope Memorial in which the statue of the President reaches to a young girl with a disability herself. The statue offers encouragement to those with a disability and the power to persevere.
Ms. Bergmann is an American born artist with BFA from The Cooper Union School of Art and attended Parsons School of Design and Wesleyan University. Her public works explore history, social justice, human rights and disabilities (Author’s bio).
Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Points Freedom Park is the first memorial dedicated to the president in his home state of New York. Located at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island in New York City. It is the last work of Louis I. Kahn, an iconic architect of the 20th century.
The memorial, which opened to the public in October 2012, celebrates the four freedoms, as pronounced in President Roosevelt’s famous January 6, 1941, State of the Union address: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park
(Park’s Mission: As a steward of this civic space, Four Freedoms Park Conservancy advances President Roosevelt’s legacy and inspires, educates and engages the public in the ideals of the four freedoms. The Conservancy does this by:
*Safeguarding the memorial as a space for inspired use.
*Fostering community and understanding.
*Igniting conversation about human rights and freedoms today.
The park is built on land filling from on-island demolition and this extended the island on the southern part.
(New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Society).
From the park, I walked the path around the exterior of the entire island taking in the view of the coast of Queens. The shoreline of Queens is slowly changing too. New apartment buildings are going up in Astoria and Long Island City not to mention the coastline of Brooklyn as well. Much of this is built around parks that line the East River. This is not our parent’s outer borough.
The pathway around the island had its twists and turns around the many parks and housing complexes. Some of these you could tell were built back in the 80’s and were the housing developments that were bitched about in New York Magazine so many years ago. Now these apartments have become desirable and have been spruced up. They are surrounded with newer, modern buildings that are attracting new younger residents.
The pathway with its breezy views attracts the island joggers and fisherman. It turned out to be an 81-degree day and everyone was out enjoying the unseasonable warm weather. The leaves were just starting to change colors so there was a new view in the parks on the island and in the parks across the river.
The east part of the pathway on the island took me to Lighthouse Park on the northern tip of the island. This was the park I had seen a few weeks earlier when visiting Carl Schulz Park by Gracie Mansion. The lighthouse was built in 1872 by inmates from the penitentiary with stones from the island and it was designed by the architect who designed the Smallpox Hospital.
Lighthouse Park Roosevelt Island at 910 Main Street
The lighthouse was built to guide ships through the treacherous waters of the East River and Hellgate. Now decommissioned, the park is a perfect place for picture taking and for picnicking. It has the nicest views of the Upper East Side and Randalls-Wards Island to the north. It really is a nice place to take pictures or just relax, sit and enjoy the breezes. It was funny to now see the people from across the river. They seemed so much smaller.
Next to the lighthouse is a monument of faces dedicated to Nellie Bly and to women who have faced hardship entitled “The Girl Puzzle”. The sculpture was dedicated to journalist Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, pen name Nellie Bly, who wrote about the abuses in the mental asylum on what was known as Mental Island at the time. She wrote the full report “Ten Days in the Mad House” on the abuses of patients.
“Girl Puzzle” by artist Amanda Matthews (Artist Bio)
The piece was created by American born artist Amanda Matthews. Ms. Matthews graduated with a BA in Studio Art from the University of Louisville and had studied abroad in Europe. She is known for her work that honors women and celebrates diversity and inclusion (Wiki).
The northern part of the island is dominated by the Coler Rehabilitation Center and many of the patients were out and about on the pathways with their families enjoying the warm weather. Be careful when walking the western part of the island as you could be nipped by a passing wheelchair.
Passing the hospital is the Octagon Apartments. The front of the building is the original Octagon building that was part of the Lunatic Asylum was built in 1834 and designed by architect Alexander Jackson Davis.
This is where Nellie Bly wrote “Ten Days in a Nuthouse”, a famous piece describing the conditions in the building. Now it is a luxury eco-friendly apartment building. The parks next door to it have the nicest playground and a fantastic view of the Upper East Side.
Other newer apartment buildings line this part of the island of which have views anyone would envy. If you are going to live in New York City and want a view, this is the place to go.
As I was leaving the area, I came across a tiny statue of a woman entitled “Sabrina” right behind the Octagon apartment building. This is a bronze recasting of artist William Calder Marshall’s 1845 statue that has been part of the Ahmherst College tradition of pranking over the last hundred years.
Mr. Marshall was educated at the University of Edinburgh and was known for as a prolific sculpture of poetic subjects and many public commemorative works (National Galleries.org).
The nicest part of the walk was the water sculptures by American and Kansas born artist Tom Otterness entitled “The Management of Money & Real Estate”, which are two cute looking sculptures that depict the combination of money and real estate and how they affect one another. You could see this when each one of the sculptures were dunked in the water. You have to take time out and really look at these. It is really reflective of an island where mixed income seems to work. You also notice the irony when you look to Manhattan with its gleaming towers and then you look towards Queens with the public housing projects next to newer apartment buildings.
Mr. Otterness came to New York City in 1970 to study in the Arts Student League and the Whitney Museum. He is considered one of the best public sculptors in the Art world (Artist Bio and Google.com)
Tom Otterness “The Management of Money & Real Estate”
As I rounded the Promenade in 2017, I had to stop for some lunch. There are not too many restaurants on the island but the ones who are there look pretty good. I ate at Piccolo Trattoria at 455 Main Street (See review on TripAdvisor) for a slice of pizza. This is the only place to get a slice of pizza on the island.
The best part is the restaurant is really good. I had a slice of their Sicilian pizza ($2.50), which had just come out of the oven. It was really good. Their sauce is excellent, and one slice is enough to fill you up. There service is friendly as well. I needed it as I was ready to walk the interior of the island.
In 2022, I was in the mood for something different and had wanted to try the Chinese restaurant on the island, but it only accepted cash. So, I tried the new Zhongzhong Noodles at 568 Main Street. I had the most amazing meal there. The noodles and the Soup Dumpling that I ordered were made fresh on premise for me and you could taste the quality in every bite (See my review on TripAdvisor). The Za Jiang Noodles were made with a minced pork and fresh vegetables in a sauce that when mixed together had the most complex and delicious taste. The Soup Dumplings were juicy and tasted wonderful in the soy dipping sauce.
After lunch, I walked in interior of the island and walked both side of the main street. There are some interesting restaurants, historical sites, a brand-new school and the original Blackwell family house that was built in 1796 and sold in 1823.
It was closed in 2017 when I visited the island for much needed renovations but had finally reopened in 2022. The only problem was there was not much to tour once you were inside the house. It had been given a renovation but not a historical restoration, so the interior looked like a modern-day McMansion.
The tour guide explained to me that the house had been gutted and renovated and the only thing left of the original home was the stone foundation which he opened the basement door to show me. These had been quarried locally and had historic significance. That and there were some historical pictures around the house including one of Captain Blackwell of Revolutionary War fame who built the house but not much else that looked historic. I think they need a curator to come in and add some historic touches to the home. It looks really nice, but it loses its historic distinction.
The modern-day living room at the Blackwell House
By the Motorgate building, there was a Farmer’s Market going on that afternoon. In 2017, I was able to walk around and see all the different vendors.
It seems to be a great place to raise children. The public-school PS/IS 217 looks like the type of school where the parents really support it. There are some interesting programs going on at the school and an active PTA. There is also an active theater down the road and a new library. There is a lot to do for a small neighborhood.
The tour of the island has a lot to do and see. There is a nice mix of historical buildings and brand-new architecture that blends together. Everything mixes well and has created a very livable and vibrant neighborhood. There is a lot to do and I am not sure if the rest of Manhattan knows what they are missing.
I left the island on the Tram and the nice part is I did not need to use a special ticket. It was part of my subway card and all I needed to do is swipe the card and I was on my way.
What a view! I do not care how touristy anything is the view from the Tram on a clear sunny day is the best. You can see all the way up the island and you really see the beauty of the island of Manhattan. To see all the buildings and parks and the river I think of the people who see this view in pictures and never get to experience this and I am right here seeing it. If anything, you have to take the Tram once. Being crowded in is well worth it.
Dinner in 2017 was at Dorrian’s Red Hand Restaurant on 1616 Second Avenue at 84th Street (See review on TripAdvisor), which I had mentioned before when walking through Yorkville. It is old-fashioned bar founded in 1960 and is a true Upper East Side ‘preppie’ bar. Everyone was pretty dressed up and the games were on.
I ended up staying to watch the Michigan State versus Indiana game. I swear I had to calm down because it was a nail biter and I had to deal with rugby players constantly blocking the TV. That last minute touchdown really helped (that and the fact that Cornell beat Brown at Homecoming was nice). Michigan State won our Homecoming Game!
The food here is excellent. You have to try their UES Burger, which was a version of a ‘breakfast’ burger with bacon, artisan cheddar and a fried egg. The combination really worked, and it had a salty savory flavor to it. The French Fries were perfectly cooked with lots of salt. Everything just worked. The place was packed with Syracuse fans watching their game, so I was the only green and white in a sea of orange and blue. These games got close. I ended the win with a piece of warmed apple pie which hit the spot.
Back on the Q subway at 96th Street again to go home but on a warm night it was nice to walk around Second Avenue and look at everyone else eating outside and enjoying the warm evening. It was a great day in New York and my first trip to Roosevelt Island.
Go Green & Go Red!
Transportation to Roosevelt Island:
Take the tram (Cost of a subway ride with pass) between 59th and 60th Streets on Second Avenue in Manhattan or the F subway line.