New York City's latest attraction just opened on June 8, 2009, so naturally I had to give it a try. Imagine an elevated park, 30 feet above street level, winding its way through Lower Manhattan and piercing right through buildings. That's The High Line, and it's quite an accomplishment.
UPDATE: On May 4, 2012 I walked the High Line again, from 14th Street to 23rd Street, on my way to the Avedon photo exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery on West 21st Street, practically under the High Line. It's amazing to see just how much this elevated park has been extended and improved, with many snack vendors along the route! A few new photos are added at the bottom of this entry.
How did this come about? Its history actually goes all the way back to 1849, when the Hudson River Railroad ran a street-level line to the junction of Chambers and Hudson streets. Its locomotives tended to frighten horses, so each train was preceeded by a man on horseback blowing a horn. As the city grew and motor traffic replaced horses, this became more than a nuisance and a very real safety concern. By the late 1920s congestion had become so bad that it was decided to elevate the rail line, then owned by the New York Central Railroad. This work was completed in the mid-1930s and continued operation until 1980. After that, it was abandoned and slowly reverted to nature. Slated for demolition, the High Line was saved by activist citizens and in 2006 restoration by the city began.
A friend and I began our walk at the southern terminus, Gansevoort Street at Washington Street, in the heart of the historic Meatpacking District. We got there from Penn Station via the 8th Avenue subway to 14th Street, then walked three blocks to the southwest. The line south of here had previously been demolished. Here, a stairway (photo, above) leads up to the park with its magnificent views across the Hudson River to Hoboken, New Jersey.
The map above shows both the currently opened section, from Gansevoort Street north to 20th Street, and the section north of that to 30th Street which should open next year. Another section, from 30th Street northwest by the Penn Station Rail Yards is under negotiation with its owners, the CSX railroad.
Leaving Gansevoort Street (photo, above), we climbed the stairway (there are also elevators at 14th and 16th streets) some thirty feet to the linear park. From here a paved pedestrian walkway leads north to the end, bordered on the sides by remnants of the abandoned rail line. Between the tracks grow flowers, plants, and even trees (photo, right). Volunteer gardeners were busy at work making it even more attractive.
Oddly, the High Line passes through several buildings along the way. Most of these were once industrial structures and warehouses, with rail sidings leading in at the third-floor level. Some of them have recently been converted into highly desirable loft apartments, and others into art galleries.
At 15th Street the trail cuts through the old Chelsea Market Building, formerly a Nabisco factory. Beyond this is the Northern Spur, where a side track went into a meat warehouse. It is now a horticultural preserve.
The High Line crosses Tenth Avenue around 17th Street, and a section of the structure has been lowered in steps to form a viewing platform looking out across the midtown skyline. A glass wall prevents those carried away by the view from falling off and tumbling down to the streets below.
Plans are afoot to build a grand staircase at 18th Street, leading down to a public plaza. Above this, a cantilevered snackbar will hover above the site.
Strolling through the Chelsea Grasslands leads to the present northern terminus at 20th Street. Beyond this, the High Line is still under development and should open in 2010. Another friend, reached by cell phone, joined us nearby.
From here it is only a short walk across Eleventh Avenue to the famous Chelsea Piers. Built in the early 1900s to accomodate ocean liners, the piers have a colorful history. This was the destination in 1912 of the Titanic, which of course sank on its maiden voyage, and it was here that its 706 survivors arrived aboard the RMS Carpathia. Three years later the RMS Lusitania (photo, right) sailed from these piers on its fateful journey to England. It was torpedoed by the German Navy off the coast of Ireland with great loss of life, an event that hastened America's entry into World War I.
In the mid-1930s passenger ships were moved north to new, larger piers around 50th Street, and the Chelsea Piers reduced to cargo handling as well as World War II troop ships. Nearly demolished in the early 1990s, they were saved by the abandonment of the Westway Project, and now form a major sports and entertainment complex.
We ended our day of exploring the High Line and Chelsea Piers by visiting a few of the sports facilities spread over 28 acres above the Hudson River. Among the many activities available are gymnastics, soccer, basketball, rock climbing, a golf driving range, health club, and more. But after shooting a few hoops my companions agreed with me that a visit to the Chelsea Brewing Company at the southern end of the complex was in order. There we had sandwiches and a variety of craft beers brewed on the spot before returning to Penn Station for the train ride home.
NEW PHOTOS, May 4 2012:
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You might be interested in this book by the Friends of the High Line. CHECK IT OUT by clicking on its title in the box below: