I have been a homegrown New Yorker my whole life. Like most people I get caught up in my daily life taking for granted the precious places I am surrounded by. For as long as I can remember looking out a car or bus window towards the East River my eyes always gleam staring at both that beautiful N.Y.C. skyline as well as Brooklyn where my heart lies.
Since I began this blog I have made it my mission to make a list, checking it twice, and give myself a year or so to scratch off attractions that I haven’t yet been to despite living in this city for almost thirty-four years. I found that even when I cannot travel to an exotic location I could have a staycation any day I want. There is so much more to discover in New York City especially when I am so close. Ironically it is not so much the location of the places we want to see, as it is more important to carve the time out of our busy schedules. Sometimes the things we would love the most are right in front of our faces slipping by. Such is certainly true about Roosevelt Island and me. Well that statement is false as of last weekend. We have been introduced and are still very much in the honeymoon stage of our relationship.
This story begins not on the day of my visit, but much earlier, starting in October 2012, thus is appeared on my blog back in 2013 where it appeared for the first time on my yearly to-do list (http://thequeenoff-ckingeverything.blogspot.com/2013/06/for-year-3-20132014-to-do-list.html). But it was not Roosevelt Island that was listed; it was the creation of FDR Four Freedoms Park. Up until the time I arrived here I had not planned on really seeing anything else on the island, I assumed I would get in and out and go about my life back to looking out a window. Boy was I naïve.
It is interesting to me how many times I must have stared out a window looking at Roosevelt Island without even so much as a twinge to explore it. All that is over now.
But before I can talk about why a park named for our former President would create such a strong desire to visit an unknown land, first we must talk about the Island and its namesake themselves.
Prior to being named Roosevelt Island in 1971, this island had many previous names, the most recent being Welfare Island. This name clearly identifies who mainly lived, worked, or was ill there. At different points in time this Island has been a prison, an asylum, and more infamously a hospital for immigrants who were suffering from Small Pox. Coincidentally I stumbled upon this ruin, as it is right before you walk into the Freedoms Park. This may be the highlight of my day. No disrespect for the President but this was amazing. I had been trying to find it on a map of Roosevelt Island and never had any luck. So to stumble upon it was a great find. You can even see it better from the view in the park. I love when a trip exceeds my expectations. Things like this make my day!
F.D.R. Four Freedoms Park is named not only for this great politician but also for the famous speech of the same name, which appears on the opposite side of the statute. The Four Freedoms are the freedoms of: speech, religion, want, and fear.
F.D.R.’s face (it is actually just his head) is facing inward towards the Island. It is sort of like he is watching over what happens there. He is so close to the edge of the boundary of the park it seems like a frightening location. But the trees (even though not fully in season yet) create a triangle of foliage that naturally leads you to the man himself. My favorite part of visiting his section was when I got to sit down looking at the monument, then across at my city and/or my hometown taking in the sun and looking myself towards the action beyond.
Roosevelt Island surprised me a great deal. I couldn’t believe how many people live on the Island now and how many were out and about so early in the day. It’s sort of like a party that never ends. It was strange to be standing on ground that was brand new to me it was like being in a foreign land. Walking around I felt like I was on vacation on a hidden, well island. I can’t stop thinking about it. I have seen all there is as I walked from one side to the other but just being there was special to me. I was with people I like and we were all enjoying this place that was new to us yet old to our city.
The Octagon is a hotel and residential building. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. An interesting piece of history exists in the current building; it is the atrium from the old asylum. This fact only makes me want to stay here more. It was so gorgeous just from the outside I could only imagine what the inside was like. It made me feel like if I stared at that building long enough it would appear on a beach in Rhode Island. That’s the feeling I got.
This building is the farthest point on that side of the Island, with the F.D.R. Park being on the edge of the opposite side of the Island. We actually thought we could park in their lot but that was of course for those staying there. We just had bad information but at least I got to see some amazing architecture.
I am going to be nice and leave you more well informed for your visit than I was for mine. For starters when they say on the website that there is limited parking on the Island they aren’t kidding. Actually what they mean is that there are a handful of spots with limited meter time that may be available for you to park in. Please keep in mind that nowadays there are a lot more people living and visiting the Island so parking on Main Street (the only street here) is not likely. What you should do is go directly from the Roosevelt Island (Welfare Island) bridge/overpass and make a quick right into the Motor Gate Garage (there is a Gristedes on the bottom level) where there is tons of parking at reasonable rates. If you pass it and end up on Main Street like I did you will need to go back over the ramp to enter the garage. Once you have parked you will cross the street and see red buses going in each direction. They are free, come every few minutes, and make getting around the Island much more manageable.
Once on the very comfortable bus we were able to take it to the opposite end of the Island where you get off by the Tram and walk the remaining distance to FDR Four Freedoms Park. Initially that’s all I cared about seeing so the walk was good for exercise, Island exploration, and of course that view!
Many may not know this but the Roosevelt’s were New Yorkers. This is their hometown. Cousin Teddy’s (also a former President) estate, Sagamore Hill still exists and you can visit. It is currently going through renovations and will reopen in July of this year. Hyde Park is Franklin’s home and the location of his presidential library (Teddy does not have one). I look forward to going up here before the summer heat is upon us. Both of these historic houses are both on my to-do list this year (http://thequeenoff-ckingeverything.blogspot.com/2015/03/for-year-5-2015-2016-to-do-list.html).
Incidentally if you are looking for a monument for Teddy Roosevelt there isn’t one but you can see a statute of him in the American Museum of Natural History here in New York City (http://thequeenoff-ckingeverything.blogspot.com/2012/06/for-all-things-natural-and-historic.html). A good way to get to know more about this family is to see Ken Burns PBS documentary or read the accompanying book (links below).
As you will find out in a few months when I post my Washington D.C. blog, I have seen the National Monument for F.D.R. there. In many ways the one in Four Freedoms Park was much simpler and I am still debating the value of that. I saw the one in D.C. first and it’s much grander. But that’s for another time.
I have to say that for a man who suffered so badly from polio and walked with braces or was in a wheelchair, I have walked the farthest to see him in both cities. The irony cannot be excluded. Another similarity is that Cherry Blossoms always seem to be in season when I see an F.D.R. statute. I don’t know what it all means but this is how me and F.D.R. roll (no pun intended).
I am going to end this discussion by leaving you with my most favorite piece of information about Roosevelt Island. In order to maintain cleanness and traffic on the Island there are no garbage cans or sanitation trucks. Instead there are underground tubes that vacuum up the mess. This is genius. I swear this Island is just keeps improving. I would so be good with living here in the new million dollar condos they are building.
It’s all about the Roosevelt’s baby.
For More Information on Roosevelt Island:
For More Information on the Roosevelt’s: