Paris has its glittering Ile de la Cite on the Seine, Budapest its merry Margaret Island on the Danube. New York City also has an island in the stream that may someday be an equally stimulating place to live or visit. Known as Roosevelt Island (for F.D.R.), the 2.5-mile-long sliver of granite in the East Riverformerly Welfare Island served as a malodorous dumping ground for the wicked, the incurable and the insane. Today the islet is a burgeoning new community, only 300 yds. from Manhattan but psychologically light-years distant. This week convenience and mystique came together with the opening of a $6 million aerial tramway the first ever used for urban transit in the U.S.that can waft 1,500 passengers an hour across the water.
Illustrious Prisoners. Manhattan's Other Islandit might be called the Little Applewas planned as a green and spacious community that would combine insular serenity, small-town security and Manhattan-on-the-rock sophistication. Its appeal is mostly to young families who might otherwise head for the suburbs. Cars are banned from its winding Main Street (though electric minibuses run around the clock). Dogs are verboten. Old trees have been spared, eyesores torn down, and landmark buildings preservedincluding the oldest wooden farmhouse in New York County, an octagonal tower that drew Charles Dickens' admiration, a lighthouse and a Victorian chapel that has become a community center. An infamous old prison has long since been demolished, leaving only the legends of its two most illustrious occupants: "Boss" Tweed, who served time in 1874 after mulcting the city of $200 million; and Mae West, who was gilded-caged for overacting in a 1927 play calledwhat else?Sex. The new buildings are generously interlaced with parks and served by an imaginatively planned school. There is an abundance of recreational facilities.
The attractive development of Roosevelt Island, largely along the restrained, human lines laid down by Architect Philip Johnson, has been all the more remarkable, considering the astronomical value of its real estate; its 147 acres are worth up to $1 billion. To forestall rapacious commercial exploitation, New York State's Urban Development Corporation in 1969 leased the island from the city for 99 years and has spent $180 million on it. But development has been crimped by money shortagesand, until this week, by the fact that the only means of access was by a backdoor, time-consuming route across a bridge from Queens. Only 2,148 of the planned 5,000 apartments have been built; a town center, office building and hotel have been indefinitely postponed.
Still, Roosevelt Island already boasts 400 families, a delicatessen, a stationery store and bank, and leases have been signed for a restaurant, a liquor store and a laundry. In keeping with the original vision of a classless, integrated, ecumenical community, the four apartment buildings now standing range from federally assisted low-income housing (at $421 for a four-bedroom apartment), to middle-and higher middle-income accommodations (from a $297 studio to an $887 three-bedroom duplex) to co-ops that are comparably priced with East Side Manhattan apartments.