I haven’t lost hope for the High Line, the former elevated freight railroad constructed in 1934 and used for that purpose until 1980. Long before I even conceived Forgotten New York, in the 1980s, I recall a frigid winter day when I prowled the West Village after seeking out a long-vanished sci-fi bookshop which I seem to recall was at 8th Avenue and West 13th. I headed west on West 13th and “discovered” the Meatpacking District, silent by day and roaring with wholesale meat distributors by night. I noticed the giant hulking “High Line” — it was still known as the West Side Freight Elevated then — running through its streets, cutting off abruptly at Gansevoort.
Flash forward a few years and I roved with the camera all over Manhattan Island on lunch break from Macy’s between 2000-2004. Much of the material that still appears in this website and also in FNY The Book turns up from those excursions. I’d travel on the A train south to 14th Street and wander into the Meatpacking, still in transition between its carnivorous past and fashionable, overbuilt present. Occasionally, with friends, I would pop into Florent on Gansevoort, which I understood as a family-friendly diner by day and a center of the underground club scene at night.
I was enthusiastic about the High Line’s transition into a linear park and duly documented every step of the various segments opening between Gansevoort and West 34th Street. In 2009, when the first section opened, I had no idea that High Line Park would presage the complete transformation of the Meatpacking District and western Chelsea from a sleepy middle class area dotted with art galleries, gas stations, Western Beefs and McDonalds into what first became a clubby district with numerous fashion emporiums, then high rise buildings with expensive restaurants on the ground floors. The gas stations and middle class tenants were forced out, including Sebastian Junger’s Half King restaurant, to be replaced by weirdly designed residential towers (architects saw this as fertile ground to try out avant-garde designs).
I’m not saying it’s all bad; few neighborhoods ever stay the same in Manhattan (the other boroughs are more stolid); but the Meatpacking and western Chelsea have become the province of new and plentiful money, and as a middle class 60+ year NYC veteran, I sense my presence is not fully desired.
Yet, I an an infrastructure enthusiast and the High Line continues to provide me with “entertainment” as the area around it evolves and changes.
The final spur of the High Line opened in the summer of 2019. It’s a small spur spanning 10th Avenue at West 30th. Formerly, a trackway here went directly into the Morgan General Mail Facility, a building that currently is the main distributor of NYC’s mail; the James Farley Post Office, West 31st-33rd between 8th and 9th Avenues, is being transformed into a Penn Station extension called the (Sen. Daniel) Moynihan Train Hall.
Rotating artworks will appear on the overpass spanning 10th Avenue, which here is backdropped with new towers comprising the Hudson Yards project, the first section of which also appeared in 2009. The striking figure here is Simone Leigh’s “Brick House,” which is supposed to remain through September 2020. The High Line website described it thusly:
Brick House references numerous architectural styles: Batammaliba architecture from Benin and Togo, the teleuk dwellings of the Mousgoum people of Cameroon and Chad, and the restaurant Mammy’s Cupboard in Natchez, Mississippi. The sculpture contrasts sharply against the landscape it inhabits, where glass-and-steel towers shoot up from among older industrial-era brick buildings, and where architectural and human scales are in constant negotiation. Resolutely facing down 10th Avenue, Leigh’s powerful Black female figure challenges us to consider the architecture around us, and how it reflects customs, values, priorities, and society as a whole.
The area is far from the bleak, windswept “last frontier” of Greenwich Village/Chelsea I glimpsed in the mid-1980s. I’m a lot older and this is a lot different.
Forgotten Fans: There is an error in this picture. Spot it for 50 points.