The erasure is so complete, seeing Four Freedoms Park for the first time, you’d never guess what was there before.
By David Stone
Before Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island…
If you go back, you find the city prison, later relocated on Rikers Island, where Four Freedoms Park rests today. And before that, bands of rock, Manhattan schist, scraped free as the last North American ice shelf retreated.
But none of that was Roosevelt Island. The renamed community came to life with a messy meadow left behind by Welfare Island. So messy, and unsafe, we weren’t allowed to go there, except on the Fourth of July, and that was only with PSD escort.
Macy’s fireworks bursting overhead from barges, just to the south, was too big a draw for denying residents access. Plus enough outsiders that lines in the hundreds curled away from both Tram and subway after the event.
Before RIOC scooped up the name, this was Southpoint, the real one, the tip of the Island, and it was as fascinating as it was lonely.
First time past the fence…
But one Saturday morning, they left it open. Fresh snow had fallen, and maybe they didn’t want to get out of their warm car.
I don’t know, but out for a long run, I jogged straight through. To the left, charred timbers from the burned down City hospital; then, mounds of waste. Jagged chunks of concrete jutting out of earth and unidentifiable debris.
Snow covered exposed surfaces of what was left of Renwick’s design for the Smallpox hospital…
And I turned back because, on the other side of the ruin, PDS spotted me.
“You know better,” the officer warned before I got back out the gate, and I did.
I knew better than to have missed this rare chance for a look inside.
Between the opening and Four Freedoms Park…
For a while before Four Freedoms Park opened and Southpoint Park construction began, RIOC declared the area safe enough for casual visits.
Still a high mileage runner then, still unwilling to concede I’d never get fast enough, I enjoyed extending my workouts all the way to the Island’s southern tip.
Few others shared my fascination. About the only people I saw there were my wife running beside me and my buddy Patrick Stewart on is bicycle.
But every spring, I ran carefully around the geese with their goslings trailing behind. And honestly, that’s about the only thing I miss.
Patrick, while he was alive, with that playful Irish twinkle in his eye, used to tell me he couldn’t forgive Four Freedoms for taking away his favorite biking trail.
But it really was a mess, then.
Both Four Freedoms and RIOC improved the space immensely, the contrast so great you’d never guess it if you weren’t there before it all changed.
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