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Roosevelt Island residents fight to keep art gallery in historic building

A revamped entryway to what was once the city’s Lunatic Asylum had displayed art for more than a decade.

The Octagon, located at 888 Main St. on

The Octagon, located at 888 Main St. on Roosevelt Island, housed a small art gallery in space that is set to be used for a rental office. Photo Credit: Sarina Trangle

Art lovers are dismayed over plans to transform a small gallery in a historic Roosevelt Island building into a rental office.

The Octagon, a luxury rental built on a remaining portion of the infamous New York City Lunatic Asylum, is known for its striking five-story rotunda of blue-gray stone.

After decades of neglect, the former entrance to the asylum was renovated into a striking portal to two residential towers, which opened in 2006.

Tucked into the main floor was a gallery, where artists and other groups displayed their work.

“It was a lovely little gem of a gallery,” said Laura Hussey, an artist who lives on Roosevelt Island. “To have a gallery in a residential building is something really unique. People really loved it.”

Several weeks ago, officials from Bozzuto, the company that manages the Octagon, told members of the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association it was going to use the space for a rental office, according to Hussey.

While they did offer to display some artwork in the hallways or in another lounge area, Hussey said it was not the same as having a dedicated gallery space.

Officials from Bozzuto did not respond to several efforts from amNewYork to reach them via email and phone.

A petition to keep the gallery open has been circulating with local residents.

The RIVAA had helped curate and organize shows in the space for over 10 years. While there was no official agreement with the Octagon management, the gallery had become a popular and well-known spot for visitors and residents.

“People really loved this place, and it brought people from all over to this part of Roosevelt Island,” said Scott Piro, an Octagon resident who supports efforts to keep the gallery open.

Having a public art space in a historically-significant building is also important, he said.

The stunning architecture of the asylum hid an ugly truth when it was operational in the 1800s.

Crusading journalist Nellie Bly exposed the horrific conditions at the site when she went undercover for the New York World in 1887.

The site now features 500 apartments with views of the Manhattan skyline, tennis courts and a heated outdoor swimming pool.

In July, RIVAA hosted a public reception for a show called “Fresh Ideas” which featured works from its newest members.

The gallery is now empty, except for a wood bench, with barren walls.

“It’s too bad,” said Hussey. “It’s such a beautiful space.”


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