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Photosbycate Weblog

A Photo Essay Blog

Roosevelt Island Revisited


Last Saturday, I climbed aboard the Q101 which took me to Second Avenue in Manhattan to the Tramway and a tram-car that carried me to Roosevelt Island.  I managed to pick one of the hottest days so far this summer to go outside and take photos. Fortunately, this island is right smack in the middle of the East River and surrounded on all sides by cool breezes off the water, with views of Manhattan’s East Side from the west side of the island and Western Queens on the east side of the Island (confusing isn’t it?)

Roosevelt Island has a diverse and interesting history and has had several names before its current appellation and they were: Hog’s Island, Manning’s Island, Blackwell’s Island, and Welfare Island. It is famous for two well-known historic landmarks: The Blackwell Island Light House and the old 19th century Renwick Ruin at one time a small-pox hospital and then a nursing academy. In addition, the island at different times housed asylum and prison inmates. Today, thankfully it is the home of many residents that live in tall luxury apartment towers and to the  Coler-Goldwater Specialty Hospital.

Because of the heat I decided to walk around the island via the perimeter.  There were times when the sun was so hot that I would stop and find shady shelter under a tree or drink copiously from a nearby water fountain. But despite the heat the day was quiet and peaceful, the scenery beautiful and the river full of nautical traffic both commercial and leisure. I’m never happier than when I’m near a body of water no matter what the temperature.

When I exited the tram I made a bee line for the water’s edge facing Queens and started my photo tour walking north taking photos of the Queensboro Bridge arching across the water to Long Island City, the stately looking Keyspan Energy facilities with its tall red, white and grey stacks, and the Roosevelt Island Bridge.  As I neared the north tip of the island, partially hidden by a magnificent weeping willow I spied the historic Blackwell Island Lighthouse built in 1872 standing amidst the sights and sounds of 21st Century New York City.  As I rounded the tip I headed south taking images of  Manhattan’s east side buildings and the many tugs, barges, clippers and speed boats that sailed or zoomed up and down the river.

Further south I spotted a rusted and graffiti covered ship’s prow jutting out from the shoreline of  Octagon Park.  It is  called “The Prow” (ah!) and is/was a performance stage created to look like an old boat prow. It made a terrific pier to walk out on and an unusual subject to photograph. And speaking of unusual subjects, a few feet or so from The Prow, looking down over the railing I saw four whimsical sculptures by Tom Otterness  peeking out of the river.  He is an artist famous for making bronze sculptures that depict characters with or made of bags of money or huge pennies.  There are quite a few pieces of his work in Battery Park City and around Manhattan and all of them are in the oddest places.

One of my goals of the day was to take some current photos of the Renwick Ruin on the south tip of the Island. Five years ago it looked like a regal ruin but today the elements have turned it into a  skeletal shell of itself and is being supported, like an old ailing woman, with crutch like braces and protected by a strong black wrought iron fence. There is extensive beautiful renovation being done to the grounds of this part of the island. The very tip where you could walk out on the grass and view the wide open expanse of the river, looking toward New York Harbor, was completely closed off as was half of the ruin. But, that did not stop me. Really, if the 100 degree heat didn’t why would a fence? Carefully, I poked my lens through the fencing, balanced myself  on top of a low stone wall and wandered through a dense area of wild flowers, grass and rocks to get as close to this old remnant of a building as I could.

The dark green ivy was just amazing as it creeped and swarmed over whole sections of walls and the weeds grew with abandon in and out of crumbling window slits. Notwithstanding the natural deterioration and steel splints, the beauty of its Gothic architecture still shines through and with proper care and restoration this building and the grounds will be open to the public in the near future for all to appreciate and photograph.

By 2:30 I was beat, hot and very thirsty and turned back toward the Roosevelt Island Tramway.  Before I boarded the tram, I took a few more shots of the bridge and the tram cars gliding along on steel cables high above my head transporting residents of all three boroughs to this singular island in the East River.

Enjoy the images below and Have a Very Happy Fourth of July!

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