March 2019 marks Forgotten New York’s 20th anniversary. To celebrate the occasion, I’ve re-scanned about 150 key images from the early days of FNY from 35MM prints. In the early days, when people including me were accessing FNY with dial-up modems, I had to save photos really small — in some cases, just 4″ across. I couldn’t find all those early photos — I think I foolishly discarded some along the way — but all month, and into April, I’ll be picking out some and showing the newly scanned versions.
Back in 1999, High Line Park was still the abandoned West Side Freight Railway, an elevated freight railroad built on its own right of way (which sometimes took it through building on the west side of Washington Street) in 1934. It originally ran from what was st. John’s Terminal north to West 34th Street, where it made a connection with freight racks running up the west side of Manhattan. Various businesses used it to transport goods from warehouse to warehouse where goods had been unloaded from barges on the Hudson River.
By the 1970s, shipping was moving to New Jersey and the tracks, by then owned by the CSX Railroad, were used less and less until one last shipment ran on the tracks until 1980. The tracks lay unused until the 2000s, when CSX sold them to NYC with the stipulation that they never be used for railroad operations. Private money was raised from grants and donations and the right of way, by then cut back to between Gansevoort and 34th, became High Line Park, opening in stages between 2009 and 2014.
I’ve always been fascinated with the High Line, despite is touristy aspects, and have written a number of pages on it:
… and finally, its last section that opened in 2014.
At the same time, the old tracks ran above Manhattan’s wholesale meat distribution region, located west of Greenwich and between about Gansevoort and West 15th Streets. By the 2000s, like the Fulton Fish Market, many of these wholesalers had moved to the large Hunts Point facility in the Bronx, and the formerly meat-blooded Belgian Blocked streets gave way to high end fashion, retail and dining. A few diehard meat wholesalers cluster along Little West 12th between Washington and West Streets, and Hector’s Diner still caters to their lunch needs — a survivor alongside more expensive fare served at places like the Standard Grille.
The change in the view north from Washington and Gansevoort from 1999 to 2019 is striking, as Maggio Beef is long gone, replaced by the new Whitney Museum, the Standard Hotel has arisen, straddling the High Line, and the elevated line itself has been transformed into a linear park with new plantings that in some cases were made to resemble the natural grasses and weeds that had taken root on the structure between 1980 and the present.
What will this ever-evolving scene look like by 2039? Probably nothing like this — we’ll have to wait and see.