Preservation Issues

Conservancy Helps Roosevelt Island Landmarks Get Needed Repairs

Blackwell House rendering with ramp and plants.

The Chapel of the Good Shepherd

The Conservancy’s technical advice has helped gain Landmarks Commission approval for needed repairs and improvements to two important Roosevelt Island landmarks—a late 18th century farmhouse and a Victorian Gothic church.

Technical Director Alex Herrera, in cooperation with the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, has been working with the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) for the past six months on designs for an entrance ramp for Blackwell House, a circa 1796 farmhouse built by the family who owned the Island prior to the City’s purchase in 1828. He also helped plan the eventual relocation of leaky central air conditioning equipment at The Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

The exterior of the New England style Blackwell House was restored recently with plans to open the venerable farmhouse as a community center, gallery and meeting space. Hence the need for an access ramp. The ample wooden porch has been rebuilt, the windows repaired and clapboard siding replaced.

Herrera worked with RIOC design professionals as to placement and details of the proposed ramp and helped prepare the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) presentation. The new ramp will be fabricated of wood with railings that match and porth. It will be located on the eastern façade and painted the same cream/white color as the porch. A new landscape design incorporating pedestrian paths leading to the ramp will also be built. A “kitchen garden,” reminiscent of the historic garden design will be planted adjacent to the ramp.

The Chapel of the Good Shepherd, designed by Frederick Clark Withers, dates to the 1880’s. It originally served the almshouse and other charitable institutions on the island. After years of abandonment, it was restored in the 1970/s at which time central air conditioning was installed. Unfortunately, the compressors were located within the bell tower, which has proven to be a big mistake. The equipment leaks, sometimes heavily. Its vibrations shake the tower. And, it is in suh a tight space that servicing the units is difficult to impossible.

When RIOC decided to update the system and move the compressors to the exterior, Herrera worked with consulting mechanical engineers and RIOC engineers to locate the equipment in the least conspicuous location and to connect it to the building in a way that caused no damage to the landmark. Herrera helped design an unobtrusive wooden enclosure reminiscent of the Victorian-style fences seen surrounding the church in early photos.

The Conservancy’s Sacred Sites program helped restore the Chapel’s bell tower and rose window in 2003.

The Conservancy has promoted the preservation of the island’s several landmarks for many years, especially last year’s stabilization of the former smallpox hospital designed by James Renwick. The hospital remains are visible from the FDR Drive near the Island’s southern tip.