Monday, July 15, 2013

Welfare Island

Here amongst the eight million, rubbing shoulders and breathing down each other’s neck, yet there are places of isolation. Also, there are islands. Islands as lonely as Elba or Juan Fernandez where the original Robinson Crusoe spoke to his goats and felt his mind slipping quietly into the sea. And islands have always been prisons. St. Helena, Devil’s Island, Alcatraz, Chotodee. Islands have always been prisons.

This introduction from the 1963 episode of Naked City is a great example of the whole Film Noir genre. In the "Carrier" episode of Naked City (season 4, episode 29, 1963), a woman (Sandy Dennis) escapes from a chronic care hospital on Welfare Island — as it was then called — to carry a rare disease through the borough of Queens.

Welfare Island, New York City, New York. Renamed in 1971 to Roosevelt Island in honor of FDR, has an interesting history as a prison, an insane asylum, a charity hospital, and now tony development and a possible New York City Technology Center. The island was called Minnehanonck by the Lenape and Varkens Eylandt (Hog Island) by New Netherlanders, and during the colonial era and later as Blackwell's Island. It was known as Welfare Island from 1921 to 1973. It is is a narrow island in the East River of New York City.

Although Roosevelt Island is located directly under the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, it is not directly accessible from the bridge itself. A trolley used to connect passengers from Queens and Manhattan to a stop in the middle of the bridge, where passengers took an elevator down to the island. The trolley operated from the bridge's opening in 1909 until April 7, 1957. Between 1930 and 1955, the only vehicular access to the island was provided by an elevator system in the Elevator Storehouse that transported cars and commuters between the bridge and the island. The elevator was closed to the public after the construction of the Roosevelt Island Bridge between the island and Astoria in 1955 and demolished in 1970.

In 1976, the Roosevelt Island Tramway was constructed to provide access to Midtown Manhattan. New York City Subway access via the IND 63rd Street Line began in 1989. Located more than 100 feet below ground level, the Roosevelt Island station (F train) is one of the deepest in New York City's subway system.

On December 19, 2011, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that a joint Cornell University-Technion-Israel Institute of Technology graduate school of applied sciences will be built on the Island. The $2 billion facility will include 2 million square feet of space on an 11 acre city-owned site, which is currently used for a hospital. Classes will begin off-site in September 2012, with the first classes in the new facility scheduled to start in 2018. The campus will take almost 30 years to be fully complete.

Any visit to New York City won’t be complete without a trip to the island. Much of it is car free, but the red Island bus will get you around. Unlike in the past, you will be allowed to leave the island. It’s no longer a prison. Then there's Rikers.

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