Doors opening. That’s the good news with Blackwell House


What the hell’s going on with Blackwell House? The question popped into my head when I saw the historic landmark under a protective wrap again. But now, the wraps are off, lights are up and doors are opened.

By David Stone

Roosevelt Island News

In a Roosevelt Islander blog post, they asked, “… at what point will the condition of Blackwell House be such that it can be used for some purpose other than just staring at it?”

Shown here during the construction phase, Blackwell House is officially opened, but RIOC has not posted details about visiting yet.

Getting your mind around the mess RIOC’s made of this potentially gorgeous historic landmark, you need to know that that quote is from April, 2011.

RIOC had just agreed on a usage plan with the Roosevelt Island Historical Society.

No kidding.

But now, as Historical Society president Judith Berdy posted today, she cut the ribbon and the restored place is finally open again.

Finally reopened during the COVID shutdown, only officials were allowed for the event.

What the hell’s going on with Blackwell House? Intolerable dithering.

Former RIOC president Susan Rosenthal staked her claim to success on infrastructure, and in June 2017, her board approved $1.465 million for the restoration of Blackwell House. The award went to AFL Construction.

A year later it was a mess and 50% more expensive.

Years of incompetent management haunt at September 2018, Board Meeting

At that meeting, Stephen Noone, Assistant Vice President for Capital Planning, requested an increase $750,000. Above and beyond $1.465 million already awarded, ongoing repair work at Blackwell House demanded it.

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Noone, since dismissed by RIOC, cited damages undiscovered until repair work started. This left the board little choice, and they approved the expense.

Noone said that, after opening up the building’s foundation, they found voids as well as no waterproofing.

Waterproofing, board members Kraut and Shinozaki noted, had been contracted and paid for under an agreement with a prior administration.

Not just that, Shinozaki said, RIOC also paid a consultant to oversee the work and verify that it was done properly.

It was, as Noone discovered, never done at all.

What the hell’s going on at Blackwell House, today?

Three years and $2.4 million later, i.t finally reopened.

At a September 2019 RIOC board meeting, Rosenthal said “Blackwell House is not ready,” adding that Fire Department and Department of Building inspections were needed.

She did not offer details, and that made the wraparound of Blackwell House, weeks later, a surprise.

The millions invested will finally show off the results.


  1. I worked the RiOC staff last spring. The house is complete. I have been in the house which is completely furnished down to curtains and shades. The rooms are complete. Over 35 pieces of art (many from the RIHS archives) have been reproduced, and professionally hung.
    The only answer I get from RIOC is that they are waiting for permits.
    After RIOC took the house back from a renter in 1999, nothing has happened in 20 years to open the building to the public.
    It is lovely inside and I have no idea of what the problems are. The RIHS has only been offered a small shared office on the second floor so we will keep our office and archives in the Octagon.
    I am asked daily about the house…….I have no answer.
    Juditth Berdy

    • Didn’t they say it needed painting, then they’re put up that ugly fence and started working on the roof? That was after they set a tentative opening for September. You have to wonder what they’re hiding. Gotta be something.

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