The Roosevelt Island Elevator Storehouse? A Piece of the Past Returns

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An Elevator Storehouse once sat alongside the Queensboro Bridge. Much more than a place for storage, it was torn down in 1970, before Welfare Island became Roosevelt. But a significant, salvaged piece returns home tomorrow.

By David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

All photos courtesy of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society.

An Elevator Storehouse That Was Something Else

When the Queensboro Bridge opened in 1909, a trolley, following roughly route of the Roosevelt Island Tram, carried passengers to and from Manhattan and Queens. One of the original toll booths sits just across 2nd Avenue from the Tram Plaza.

Another, secured by the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, serves as a welcome center.

The Roosevelt Island Welcome Center opened in 2007, the former 34 ton toll booth rescued by RIHS and restored in place.

In 1918, though, the trolley system added something new. The mayoral administration of John Hylan built a structure housing five or six elevators that brought cars, trucks and pedestrians to Blackwell’s Island. The name change to Welfare Island was three years in the future.

Who knows why they called it an Elevator Storehouse? It was active, not static as the title suggests. And it brought the first direct access to the Island, other than by water. Four wheeled traffic expanded fast all over New York City, demanding the change.

Oddly enough, the Department of Public Charities got credit for the construction. At least partly, the reason was the same as that for the upcoming name change… because the Island housed so many of the city’s charitable institutions over the decades.

Some would say that the big island across the river dumped whatever it didn’t want on the little island. Not only were smallpox victims laid out along the shore when cemeteries became overwhelmed, but African American children burned out of an orphanage by white supremacists during the so-called Draft Riots were rescued here.

The Almshouse, Lunatic Asylum, two hospitals and a huge city penitentiary took up space between Blackwell’s Island’s shores.

The Elevator Storehouse gave them access.

Saved for 50 Years

In the mid-1950s, the Welfare Island Bridge brought traffic directly from Queens. No longer in high demand, the last trolley route across the Queensboro Bridge ended. In 1970, the Elevator Storehouse was torn down.

But someone saved the building’s identifying plaque, and RIHS president Judith Berdy negotiated is return to now Roosevelt Island. Late last week, she announced its arrival on Monday at 11:00 a.m.

Wall space set aside for the new arrival at the Visitor Center

She is, she says, “… thrilled to see it return to the island 103 years after its original installation.”

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2 Comments

  1. […] Over the next thirty years, it was impossible to escape Berdy’s activism on behalf of the Island. She, for example, swung the deal for bringing the historic kiosk that now acts as a Visitor Center to its new home. In its prior, active lives, it served as an entry point for the streetcar line across the Queensboro Bridge, with a stop for elevators to and from Roosevelt Island. […]

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