1969: An Island's Vacant Southern End

In 1969, Roosevelt Island was called Welfare Island and was a site of prisons, hospitals, like Goldwater, and a penitentiary. The island, with its rich history, was also home to an incredible amount of derelict and vacant structures.

In the late 1960s, the Planning and Development Committee of Welfare Island created an official report for New York City Mayor John Lindsay on the island's health. In it, the committee included a copy of this map (digitally updated here) and showed how the island's southern end included twenty buildings, all of them vacant.

Structures ranged in purpose from a children's pavilion and an 'old female' dormitory from 1902 and a paint shop from 1850. Only three of these structures exist today:  the Smallpox Hospital, the subway vent, and Strecker Laboratory.

In 1973, Welfare Island was renamed for Franklin D. Roosevelt and the State devised a plan to redevelop much of it into housing. The land on the island's southern end was untouched for years. Seventeen of the twenty buildings either crumbled or were demolished and island's edges eroded into the East River. In 1976, however, the Smallpox Hospital was designated a New York City Landmark and in 2002 the Strecker Lab was repurposed as a substation for the Metropolitan Transit Authority. In the early 2010s, Southpoint Park and Four Freedoms Park opened to the public.

When visiting the two parks and few buildings at the southern end of the island, it is interesting to imagine how crowded the site once was.


Buildings On Site in 1969

1.  Receiving Ward - Constructed 1904

2.  Community Store - Date Unknown

3.  Chapel - 1900

4.  Nurses' Dormitory - 1912

5.  Maternity Pavilion - 1888

6.  Old Female Dormitory - 1902

7.  Paint Shop - 1850

8.  Smallpox Hospital - 1854

9.  Fire Hose SHelter - 1930

10.  City Hospital - 1858

11.  Children's Pavilion - 1902

12.  Fire Hose Shelter - Date Unknown

13.  Animal House - Date Unknown

14.  Strecker Laboratory - 1892

15.  Boiler House - 1912

16.  Service Building - 1908

17.  Subway Vent- Date Unknown

18.  Miscellaneous Building - 1902

19.  Staff House - 1930

20.  Kitchen - 1850