Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Happy Belated Birthday To Roosevelt Island Tram, 43 Years Old Last Friday, Started Service On May 17, 1976 - And No Jerry Seinfeld, It's Not An Amusement Park Ride

Roosevelt Island Historical Society (RIHS) President Judy Berdy reported last Friday that May 17 was the Roosevelt Island Tram's 43rd birthday having started service on May 17, 1976.

There was no Tram party marking the occasion, but there was a big celebration in 2016 for the Tram's 40th Birthday

with speeches,


music and more festivities.

Roosevelt Island Tram Turns 40 from Michael Scotto on Vimeo.

At the 2016 Tram Birthday Ms Berdy talked about the history of the Tram:
... Way back in 1972, an architect of this soon to be community discovered that the MTA subway would not be completed in time to be ready for this new community. An alternate mode of transportation had to be developed.

The architect's name was Bill Chaffee, and apparently he was a ski enthusiast, who envisioned a gondola-style car connecting the two islands of Roosevelt and Manhattan.

Manhattan streets were surveyed to determine where to build a temporary tram station. East 72 St was a possibility, because it was wide and could accommodate a station in the middle of the road.

Luckily there was a vacant lot at East 59th Street, opposite the entrance to the Queensboro Bridge. This spot was the stage upon which the tram station would be built.

The tram, then called an aerial gondola, was ready in less than 3 years.

The history of the tram has been interesting; consider some of these highlights after it opened in 1976:

It was the site of many movies and TV shows
  • Night Hawks
  • Fear Factor
  • City Slickers
  • Turk 183 And, of course,
  • Spiderman !
In the 1980s, it seemed to run out of insurance and closed down for two weeks.

The first system was counterbalance, requiring both cabins to shut down simultaneously every week for maintenance.

In 2003, it finally accepted Metrocards.

Our new Poma system opened November 30th, 2010, on time.

While the tram was being re-built, the Roosevelt Island Historical Society’s Visitor Center kiosk was restored and our garden was planted to enhance the “neighborhood.”

The Tram is people, the professionals who daily climb the towers at 5 a.m. to check conditions, the cabin attendants who drive the cabins and deal with every kind of person, packed into the cabins, thankfully for just 4 minutes at a time.

The tram is Roosevelt Island. No matter who came with the message to cut or shorten service; that leader learned that our tram is sacred – and that person is gone.

The tram is here. It is curiously romantic, at all hours of the day and night. It is the site of marriage proposals, engagements and even weddings. One recent Sunday morning, 100 people cheered as their friends disembarked from the cabin, she wearing a new ring on her finger.

The tram brings us the world, dozens at a time. Since 2007, the Roosevelt Island Historical Society has welcomed thousands of people at the kiosk, from every state, country and continent. The tram is the attraction. Every week, Manhattanites tell us they are here out of curiosity. Some come into the kiosk, walk up Main Street, become enamored of our community and soon are our neighbors.

Many residents say the Roosevelt Island Historical Society’s Visitor Center kiosk is for tourists, which is partly true. Really, the visitor Center kiosk is for all of us.

Our staff complements the tram and makes every visitor welcome.

The history of Roosevelt Island emerges from the people who ride the tram and tell us their stories, their families, the who and why of a community.

The secret is long out. The tram is it.

Its loyal staff and riders make it part of our being.
Greg Paravati has been operating the Roosevelt Island Tram since it began service in 1976. He has watched generations of Roosevelt Island children grow up and even attended some of their weddings.

Mr. Paravati says the Tram is a wonderful way to travel. He tells us about it in this 2012 interview.

And Jerry Seinfeld jokes about the newly opened Tram

as an amusement park ride in 1977.

Happy Belated 43rd Birthday to the Roosevelt Island Tram!