Monday, March 15, 2021

Friends Of The Ruin Presenting Plan For Public Health Memorial Honoring Frontline Scientists And Medical Professionals At Roosevelt Island Smallpox Hospital Ruins During March 16 RIOC Board Meeting - $12 Million Renovation Of Sportspark Facility On Agenda Too

The Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) Board of Directors will meet 5:30 PM tomorrow, March 16, via video conference.  

You can watch the Board meeting here and ask questions or share concerns about Roosevelt Island during the opening Public Session before the start of the meeting. Sign up to speak here. 

It's unlikely any RIOC Board Directors will respond to you during the Public Session but on occasion, some may address your issue during the offical meeting.

Here's the Agenda.

Among the items on the Agenda are:

3. Presentation “The Smallpox Hospital Ruin a Physical and Digital Memorial” by Friends of the Ruin Organization


2. Authorization to Enter into Contract with Vanguard Construction & Development Co. Inc. for Sportspark Renovation Project (Board Action Required)

Stephen Martin, who once worked as the director of design & planning for Four Freedoms Park Conservancy, recently began Friends of the Ruin, a non profit whose mission is to stabilize the Smallpox Hospital ruin and return the building, which has been fenced off for over seventy years, to Roosevelt Island in the form of public park space. The organization envisions a stabilized ruin, beautifully landscaped and open to the public, free of charge, year round.

According to Mr. Martin: 

The Roosevelt Island Historical Society, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation have been wonderfully supportive. Friends of the Ruin considers them partners in its mission. 

As part of an ongoing educational component to the organization's mission, Friends of the Ruin has been working with the Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design (WHSAD), a Brooklyn blue ribbon public high school focused on architectural drafting, design principles, and historic preservation. WHSAD students, under the instruction of historic preservation firm Walter B. Melvin Architects, have spent the past five years studying Roosevelt Island, James Renwick, Jr. (architect of the Smallpox Hospital), and the ruin. After months of design charettes, critiques, and mood-boarding, students will often envision a renewed ruin as public housing, a high end retail experience, or a weekend party space.

Friends of the Ruin welcomes the students' enthusiasm but hopes the building could be permanently stabilized and opened to the public as a wild, landscaped (and safe) gothic ruin. The building (our City's only landmark ruin) was once a hospital to fight a devastating epidemic and also served as a nursing school training New York's frontline health care workers. 

It is the nonprofit's goal that the Ruin will serve, in the form of public park space, to memorialize the science, medical advances, and frontline workers fighting viral and infectious disease, including COVID-19, SARS, HIV/AIDS and many other diseases. We believe it is hard to imagine a more fitting site for this than in our country's first hospital dedicated to the smallpox epidemic, and on the historically rich Roosevelt Island.

Click to visit website and more info from Friends Of The Ruin here.

UPDATE 3/16 - Roosevelt Island resident Jennifer Dunning adds:

Reading the news in the Islander tonight about The Ruin memorial -- such a perfect program, I wanted to throw out two ideas:  

Could we for once honor the home aides, an important l but almost never acknowledged part of "the frontline"? They worked so hard for so shamefully little money. They worried constantly about catching the virus and bringing it home to their families. And most played a crucial role in keeping the City as healthy as possible,, with such kindness and imagination.  

I don't know how I would have survived without. my beloved aide Tracy, who worked it out. with her husband that their four kids would be cared for by family members while he was at work. And Tracy packed a small suitcase so she could move in with me if transportation halted. These aides, health professionals, too, must be included in the honor. 

Also, please, oh please, keep The Ruin simple and unclunky . Would it be possible just to firm up and make safe the structure as is? 

It is a unique space in the City. Let the sunlight,(and rain!) pour in. Let whatever grows there now be left unmanicured.  A litte wild, a quiet, airy space where one can feel alone with thoughts and memories of the latest plague, of life and death. 

Instead of the usual cold and cumbersome statues of a nurse and doctor, how about a piece of period hospital furniture a wooden table or desk and chair,, fixed so they cannot be vandalized, with a quiet-looking plexiglass case with surgery instruments, perhaps, some handwritten notes from. a doctor at the smallpox hospital, in another century's plague time, and lots of photos of the nurses, doctors, patients, hospital cooks, etc. , and of rooms and the pharmacy,kitchen and a surgical table with more instruments. Some newspaper accounts of other hospitals on RI Island in other times. A simple beautiful creation that is not self-important., a suggestion of the Island as it was, even into the 1980's and 90's.


A question that should be addressed is what impact such a Memorial will have on Roosevelt Island transportation, particularly the Tram, with more visitors coming to Roosevelt Island to see this Memorial