Roosevelt Island


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Quick Profile

Roosevelt Island is somewhat of an enigma to most New Yorkers. Ask just about anybody and the response you will get is somewhat quizzical. They generally know the location, unless of course, they confuse it with one of the other islands that dot the East River, and that one arrives at the island via the bright red tram that strings across the river from an elevated platform at 59th Street and Second Avenue. But to those who live on this small island enclave, home is bliss and they would prefer to keep their secret to themselves.

Roosevelt Island is only two blocks wide but extends almost two miles long (from 46th Street to 85th Street on the East Side). There is a waterfront promenade, shared by walkers and bikers alike, that encircles the entire island. There are very few cars, no need for the locals to drive, except maybe to the Gristedes mega-supermarket on the north end of the island. There is a red bus, free to all, that continuously loops from one end of the island to the other.  

Aside from the glorious promenade, the island has an inordinate number of parks, ball fields, t playgrounds, and open areas to just sit and relax. There is even a large community garden offering individual plots to amateur horticulturists. Tranquility is always just a moment away. And of course, you just can’t stop watching the barges that effortlessly pass by the island throughout the day.

There is a deep sense of community among the 12,000 or more residents of the island. The residential component, excluding the Cornell Tech component, consists of four areas, each on the north side of the Queensboro Bridge. Upon exiting the tram, one spills out onto Main Street (almost like arriving at Disney World) and is presented with nine buildings that align both sides of the street. These modern structures, the first of which opened in 2003, are architecturally pleasing and surrounded by green space and beautiful landscaping. The older housing structures, further south, are far more utilitarian.

Access to the island has never been better. Yes, for those who don’t know, you can even drive here if you must via the Roosevelt Island Bridge from 36th Avenue in Queens. The island is also accessible by subway, bus and ferry service.

If there is one drawback, it is the limited selection of stores and restaurants. While the island provides residents with the essentials, the lack of a truly sustainable retail presence has been a downer.   

Destination Spots

The Promenade. just sit, eat lunch and watch the barges go by. Fascinating for kids and adults alike. 

Cornell Tech. The campus, which opened in 2017 provides some spectacular architecture and acres of beautifully landscaped open space.

The Octagon. This residential condominium at the northern end of the island was built on the grounds of the former New York City Lunatic Asylum. What remains of the hospital, the five-story octagonally shaped rotunda serves as a grand entrance to this condominium complex.

The Tram’s the thing. Some people just visit Roosevelt Island in order to ride the red tram. It’s fun, it’s cool and pretty cheap entertainment for the kids as you float above the East River.

Tom Otterness’ East River sculptures. Along the west side of the promenade, as you’re facing the Upper East Side, you will come upon four sculptures that appear to be sprouting out of the East River. These little green figures, aptly named “The Marriage of Money and Real Estate,” depict the struggle of the little guy in a city pre-occupied by real estate and the pursuit of riches.

What You Might See

The Queensboro Bridge looms over the island, literally slicing right through it, dividing the southern section which is home to Cornell Tech and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Freedoms Park, and the northern section which houses the residential sector.

People walking. Everybody walks. They walk the inland pathways and the promenade. If you stand in one place long enough, the same people will walk by you again. Cars are primarily used to get off the island.

Views. Everywhere there is a view. The Queensboro Bridge is omnipresent and presents itself in many wondrous ways. The Manhattan skyline to the west and the burgeoning LIC skyline to the east can be electric. 

Open spaces. The island has a plethora of open spaces. Aside from the waterfront promenade, there are four large parks, a common planting garden and just a great feeling of space between the different clusters of residential buildings.

What You Don’t Know

Roosevelt Island, which now is the home to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Freedoms Park at the southern tip of the island, was actually named for our former president in 1973.  

The island has not always been a residential destination nor a tourist attraction. During the 19th century and through much of the 20th century, the island was used to provide shelter for those outside the general population. It has been home to a lunatic asylum, a smallpox hospital, and a penitentiary. Between 1921 and 1973, the island was primarily used by hospitals and was known as Welfare Island.

Former presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, using the setting and the symbolic significance of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Freedoms Park, officially launched her campaign on the island in June 1975. During her speech, Clinton promised to close the gap in economic inequality, stating that she was “not running for some Americans, but for all Americans.”

Mae West was imprisoned on the island in 1927 for moral charges after producing and performing in the play, “Sex.” Her prison term lasted just ten days and it is rumored that she dined with the warden and his wife nighty.

Living in Roosevelt Island

What's in the Future

Once 460 Main Street has been completed, there really isn’t much room for future development on the island. This is the last of the nine development sites in the Riverwalk section that flank Main Street.

As more people visit the island, our guess is that more people will consider taking up residence. It’s a quiet and restful retreat from the hustle and bustle on the other side of the river. The opening of the East River Ferry makes the island a more attractive destination for those who commute downtown.

Cornell Tech is a major draw and the current configuration is only the initial phase of the school’s development. The first hotel on the island is currently under construction and will open in the spring of 2020. The Graduate Roosevelt Island hotel will be located on campus and house 224 rooms.  

Neighborhood Statistics

Last 12 Months
Roosevelt Island
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Last 12 Months
Avg Listed Price
Median Listed Price
Average SF
1,144 SF
Days on Market
YOYNo Change

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