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A Family of Roosevelt Island “Pioneers” Sells After 47 Years

The Enock family posed on the balcony of their Roosevelt Island apartment shortly after they moved there in 1976. From left: Chris, David, Matthew, and Wanda. Photo: Courtesy of the Enock family

For almost 150 years, Roosevelt Island was a place where New York quarantined its sick, its mentally ill, its criminalized. Which is why it was an unexpected sight, in the 1970s, to watch shiny, modern apartment towers begin to rise. From a First Avenue balcony on the Upper East Side, two young boys had a perfect view of the construction. And their parents weren’t just curious about who might live on the strange island — they were willing to go themselves.

In 1976, the Enocks became the first family to move into the island’s first co-op — members of a generation that signed on to take part in a mass experiment in how the city could radically rethink housing for the middle class. A 1976 article in this magazine quoted another early Roosevelt Island pioneer who called the island “the cutting edge of social progress” and showed Wanda Enock sitting at her kitchen table, nose deep in a textbook. “They were willing to explore things and push boundaries,” remembers their son Chris Enock: Wanda was studying for a new career in psychology; David, a designer, was busy with marketing campaigns for high-end shoe brands, designer furniture, and even Pepsi.

With a master plan drawn up by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, and high-rises designed by their protégés, the development of Roosevelt Island wasn’t just an experiment in how to rethink the aesthetics of urban living, it was an experiment in racial integration and social equality. No one had built neighborhoods there before, so there were no racial or ethnic enclaves (yet), and every unit on the island was rented or sold through affordable-housing programs designed for low- and middle-income New Yorkers. The Enock family’s co-op, Rivercross, which opened with 376 units, was built through the Mitchell-Lama program and required only 10 percent down. “Rivercross tenants think they have bought New York’s equivalent of Utopia,” declared the New York Times, which interviewed a young Wanda, who claimed that island life had encouraged her to give up smoking: “We all feel more creative, calmer,” she told the paper.

A November 1976 issue of New York Magazine cast Roosevelt Island as a utopia, and showed Wanda Enock (left, center) studying at her kitchen table. But the political drive to build up Roosevelt Island into an affordable oasis for middle-class families withered, and the island now has market-rate apartments and a hotel. Photo: New York Magazine
The same kitchen today, in listing photos. The family ended up eating most meals at a table pulled snug against the window here. “It’s a great spot,” says Chris Enock. Photo: Ann Broder / VHT for The Corcoran Group

To Chris, who moved there when he was 12 years old, the island felt like freedom — not just because it was half-empty with room for exploring and abandoned buildings to sneak into, but because he could start over with a new group of friends. “That never happens in life — that everyone is thrown together and is new at the same time,” he says. In that respect, the experiment “pretty much worked.” And the apartment worked for the Enocks. Compared to their Manhattan high-rise, Rivercross felt oversized, as if it was built for some other city where land was cheap for the taking. The hallways were so wide they felt grand. Their old building in Manhattan didn’t have much in the way of amenities. But Rivercross had a swimming pool that was 60 feet long, playrooms, party rooms, a courtyard, and a gym. And inside, there was a foyer just for shaking off boots and hanging coats. Then there were the huge, wide windows, which didn’t gaze over the river from some aloof height. The Enocks opted for a third-story unit because it meant the river was always seemingly at eye level. They could watch boats slide by, the shifting tides and shifting weather. With four bedrooms, Wanda could take over one as an art studio. “It would be hard to pry yourself away,” says Chris, who spent a decade off-island before moving back when he had his own two sons, giving his parents another reason not to leave: Their grandsons lived across the street.

The 1976 New York article described the island as a socialist project, with “a view for everyone, not just the rich; a promenade for strollers, not drivers; parks and playground in everyone’s backyard.” That playground included the huge pool at Rivercross (bottom left), an amenity that’s still a major draw, says broker Kaja Meade. Photo: New York Magazine
The pool today, from the other end of the lanes. Photo: Ann Broder / VHT for The Corcoran Group

David passed away in 2020, and Wanda died last year, leaving their apartment to their sons, who are now selling. That’s a common pattern on the island, says Kaja Meade, their broker: Every single sales listing she has had on the island came from families like the Enocks, who arrived in the 1970s and left a unit to their children or are retiring elsewhere. People who buy sometimes joke with her that they’ll only leave feet first.

Rivercross left the Mitchell-Lama program in 2014, making it feasible for owners to cash in — though 45 percent of the sale earnings will go back to the building. Meanwhile, market-rate buildings have opened nearby: In 2006, a former asylum was transformed into luxury rentals, and a complex of nine new apartment towers was finished last year. There’s even a hotel, built to serve visitors to Cornell’s new tech campus on the island. With all those newcomers, the mood on Roosevelt has shifted. “The whole island is not as unified,” Chris Enock says. Still, he sees the kids he grew up with around all the time; like him, many moved back to raise families. Now their kids are friends: “The hope was that it would all pan out, that it would be a great place to raise kids. It was — definitely. It was.”

The living area of apartment 321 has unimpeded views west to Manhattan. Between the home and the river, there is only a footpath, where neighbors can be spotted walking their dogs. Photo: Ann Broder / VHT for The Corcoran Group
“The views are the most prime you’ll get on island or off island,” says broker Kaja Meade, who specializes in Roosevelt Island, where she lives too. Photo: Ann Broder / VHT for The Corcoran Group
Views on the third floor mean the river is at “eye level,” explains Chris Enock — low enough that anyone inside will notice when the boat traffic picks up, or how the tide changes or the weather, as ice floes start to crawl past in winter. “It’s a really special view,” he says. Photo: Ann Broder / VHT for The Corcoran Group
The open-plan living and dining area connects to the foyer at the entrance. Behind the circular mirror is the kitchen. The floors throughout are thick hardwood parquet. “It’s the OG,” says Meade. Photo: Ann Broder / VHT for The Corcoran Group
Meade suggests a buyer could take down the bare wall that separates the kitchen from the living room, to create one large communal living area. And the sills, which hold HVAC systems that are no longer in use, could be gutted to create storage. Photo: Ann Broder / VHT for The Corcoran Group
The balcony, which looks south, sees its stunning view improve every Fourth of July, when fireworks take over. Photo: Ann Broder / VHT for The Corcoran Group
Built-in screens pull out, making the balcony a comfortable spot, even in buggy seasons. Photo: Ann Broder / VHT for The Corcoran Group
The primary bedroom looks south, with sidelong views of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler. Photo: Ann Broder / VHT for The Corcoran Group
The second largest of the four bedrooms. Each looks out on the building’s courtyard, which makes them feel even more private. Photo: Ann Broder / VHT for The Corcoran Group
The third largest bedroom has been staged as a nursery. Photo: Ann Broder / VHT for The Corcoran Group
Wanda Enock used the smallest bedroom as an art studio. The desk is one of the eccentric antiques that the couple collected. Photo: Ann Broder / VHT for The Corcoran Group
The bathroom next to the primary suite. Photo: Ann Broder / VHT for The Corcoran Group
The Brutalist building was designed by the modernist architect John M. Johansen, a member of the so-called Harvard Five, and his partner, Ashok Bhavani. Of all the buildings on the island, “it has the most cache,” Meade says. Photo: Ann Broder / VHT for The Corcoran Group
The amenities include a ping-pong table, a sauna, dressing rooms, bike storage, community rooms, and a gym. Photo: Ann Broder / VHT for The Corcoran Group
A hallway separates the four bedrooms from the communal living areas — a dining and living space and a kitchen. “It felt like there was a lot of privacy,” Chris Enock says. Photo: Ann Broder / VHT for The Corcoran Group
The vision of Roosevelt Island as the new model for housing in New York City may have not panned out, but the island remains a lovely place to live — which is why Chris Enock returned there to raise his own sons, across the street from where he had grown up. Photo: New York Magazine
A Family of Roosevelt Island “Pioneers” Sells After 47 Years