October 11, 2010

Photo Essay: FDR Four Freedoms Park, Under Construction

In years past, Open House New York has taken me to Roosevelt Island a few times: to visit The Octagon (before and after it was turned into luxury condos), Lighthouse Park, the Renwick Ruin (smallpox hospital).

This year, I revisited the south point of the island which houses the ruin to see the construction-in-progress of the future FDR Four Freedoms Memorial Park, a tribute to the namesake of the island itself.

The upper part of the southern end of the island - designated as South Point Open Space - has been relandscaped with a new granite retaining wall (sourced from the island's own natural resources) and completely cleared of the rubble, weeds, and trees that nearly blocked the view of the Strecker Memorial Laboratory.

Before (Circa 2008):

Current (2010):

It turns out the old Strecker Lab was renovated in the 1990s and turned into an MTA Substation (!!) AND an emergency exit for the 53rd/Lex E train!

Past the lab, traversing a bed of rock fragments reminiscent of demolition rubble, you reach the smallpox hospital, whose stabilization project ceased (or, er, was "completed") eight months ago when funding ran out.

And then trucks and cranes and claws, oh my!

Huge piles of dowels and giant imported granite blocks are scattered on your way down to the point...

...until you reach the southernmost tip of the island (which is already landfill, just past the hospital): the future site of the park's "room," where they are building a concrete bathtub out of which they are constantly pumping water.

The granite blocks will be placed on the dowels, spaced apart just enough to create an open air plaza - a prime viewing spot for Manhattanhenge, they say.

Roosevelt Island's south point was always a favorite spot of mine to bask in the sun in the midst of the East River, and watch it set behind the Manhattan skyline, when there was nothing there but a big grassy knoll. Here's hoping the new park - on an underdog island - retains some of that sense of solitude and serenity. At least we've been reassured that the smallpox hospital will be preserved as a ruin (even though the park developers would like to house concessions there, if they could get the funding).

Projected opening of the park is Fall 2012. Roosevelt Island is surprisingly easy to get to from Astoria. But I doubt if I'll still be living here two years from now....

Related post: Brooklyn Bridge Park, Under Construction


  1. Great report! How have you actually been able to get in? We've been here today and could not get even to the lab - all site is fenced. Wanna try again - to take some shots. Are there any exits?

  2. There were limited spaces available on tours conducted in conjunction with Open House New York, and I was one of the few that managed to get a reserved spot. My understanding is that since it's an active construction site (it's actually two different construction sites managed by two different organizations), they're pretty strict about security...