January 13, 2013

Re-Visiting The High Line

Three years ago I kicked off the New Year with a visit to and a blog about the City's latest attraction that was drawing enthusiastic crowds of both tourists and locals, The High Line.  Last June, this hugely successful endeavor extended its terminus from 20th Street to 30th Street, a mere ten blocks north but it opened up a whole new world of enjoyment for its visitors.
The Standard Hotel straddles The High Line
near the Gansevoort Street entrance

So yesterday, on the second Saturday of this New Year, I took the subway down to 14th Street to take another walk on The High Line.  My first impression was amazement - I couldn't believe how the neighborhood had changed!  It was showing signs of gentrification a few years ago, but now one really had to look for the few remaining meatpacking houses for which the district is named.

For those of you who would like a little refresher, The High Line was a project undertaken in a private/public partnership, namely the The Friends of the High Line and The City of New York, to revamp the derelict elevated rail line that ran along the West Side of Manhattan.  From 1934 until 1980, this track served the industrial enterprises from 34th Street to the St. John's Park Terminal at Spring Street and replaced the extremely dangerous street level railroad that had earned the nickname "Death Avenue" for the many accidents between freight trains and traffic.

On the left is a mural entitled "Broken Bridge II"
by the noted Contemporary artist El Anatsui

With the demise of the railroad in general, and the de-industrialization of that neighborhood in particular, The High Line fell out of use and had deteriorated into an eyesore that wended its way through the middle of blocks full of residential and commercial buildings.  By the 1990s, West Chelsea was edging out Soho as the center for art galleries and chic nightclubs were popping up on every block.  The area was changing rapidly and residents and community leaders began to realize that this massive steel structure could be re-invented and incorporated as a public space in this rejuvenated section of town.

What seem to be wooden steps are actually
bleachers on which to watch movies on summer nights!
By 2006, the idea had gained enough merit and funding that construction began with a ceremonial lifting of a rail track.  Work continued for the next three years, first with the removal of debris, then the dismantling of the existing tracks (some of which would be reinstated in the design) and the reinforcement of the steel and concrete supports.

Eventually work could commence on the actual pathways, seating, lighting and finally planting of the many trees, shrubs, grasses and other horticultural elements that transformed this former railroad into a public park.  The first section of The High Line, from Gansevoort Street (just below Little West 12th Street) to West 20th Street opened to great fanfare on June 9, 2009, and has been drawing excited visitors and fascinated New Yorkers ever since.

Visitors watching the traffic while perched above Tenth Avenue

But the plan was always to continue northward with the restoration and two years later the second phase of The High Line opened to a delighted public.  This was the section that I came to see and I was not disappointed.  The extension is seamless, with even more amenities, viewing points and beautiful plantings including large holly trees resplendent with their red berries against the January grey.

Cranes begin work on the third and final extension of the project

As The High Line continues its push uptown toward the goal of 34th Street and the West Side Rail Yards, a little farther west toward the Hudson River than the current path, the public continues its whole-hearted endorsement of the program.  I, for one, can't wait to return for a walk on The High Line - perhaps to welcome 2015!

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