HIGH LINE’S LAST FRONTIER

by Kevin Walsh

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.

Check out the ForgottenBook, take a look at the gift shop, and as always, “comment…as you see fit.”

6/27/20

20 comments

Ty June 27, 2020 - 12:08 pm

Lived across the street from Half King for ten years. No loss. Bad service, abusive manager. Do miss the beverage distributor under the elevated. It was dark and garage like but the owners he had pictures of tropical Puerto Rico everywhere. He fought the hi line for a long time but eventually took the money and ran.

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DB June 27, 2020 - 12:18 pm

Before they tore down the Miller Hwy aka West Side Highway, I went up there with tools to get some of the copper medallions but was stopped by the NYPD who were driving by and saw me. They made me come down and ID’d me. When they saw I lived in Bklyn they told me to get back in my car and go home and escorted me to the Battery Tunnel and just watched me go thru. Today they probably would have come up and arrested me. Who know what the city did with them as there must have still been thousands of them when they tore down the structure, They lined the wrought iron guard fence all the way, 2 per section. One was NYS symbol and the other NYC

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OzMerry June 28, 2020 - 1:58 am

At least one lucky person was willing and able to acquire 5 of them.

https://ogtstore.com/exterior-materials-salvaged/salvaged-cast-iron-west-side-highway-roundel-medallion-seal-set/

Weighing in at 52 pounds each, you would’ve had your work cut out for you, DB!

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Jerry Friedman June 27, 2020 - 3:06 pm

The city sold the medallions (I think $200 each) right after the demolition. I think there were 4 variations of the design. When you bought one they included a pamphlet about the design.

How do I know this? I have one! I still thank my brother for going to wherever they were selling them and lugging it back to his Village walk-up and then to me! I think they weigh 60 pounds.

I never quite figured out what to do with it, (Extremely heavy coffee table? Walkway embedment?) and have dutifully moved it from residence to residence over the past 40 or so years!

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Aryan C Manohar June 29, 2020 - 8:23 pm

Hello Jerry! Do you know where I can find information about the post-demolition medallion-pamphlet set? Not exactly trying to buy one, but a friend who collects was talking about one a few years ago… Greatly appreciated!

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S. Saltzman June 27, 2020 - 6:45 pm

I don’t remember the name of the place where the City sold all their items( maybe the City Record Sales Office?) They we’re selling those medallions for big bucks about 35 years ago.

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Cpt. Cranky June 27, 2020 - 8:04 pm

There’a no I-495 in Manhattan.

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Kevin Walsh June 28, 2020 - 7:59 am

YES

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Andy June 27, 2020 - 8:56 pm

This is the error in the photo: the trailblazer sign for Interstate Route 495 is incorrect. The Lincoln Tunnel is NY Route 495 from this location until mid-river; then it’s NJ Route 495 west from there, connecting with the NJ Turnpike and NJ Route 3 west of the Turnpike. The tunnel and the New Jersey connecting road was once Interstate Route 495 but the Interstate designation was removed in 1979. Source: Wikipedia; link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Jersey_Route_495.

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Kevin Walsh June 28, 2020 - 7:59 am

CORRECT

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Andy Frobig August 18, 2020 - 2:39 pm

I worked on 39th between 8th and 9th for eight years and I can’t believe the spaghetti bowl of ramps and streets connecting to the Lincoln Tunnel could ever have been called an “expressway.”

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Patrick June 27, 2020 - 10:23 pm

Is the error the abbreviation of Expressway- Expwy? Usually Expy?

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Kevin Walsh June 28, 2020 - 7:59 am

That’s not it

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OzMerry June 28, 2020 - 2:16 am

Wild guess, Kevin: The Eugene, 435 West 31st Street, is missing on the far right, given the angle in relation to the High Line stairs?…don’t laugh !

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Kevin Walsh June 28, 2020 - 7:59 am

That’s not it

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Ron S June 28, 2020 - 10:44 am

Some info about the West Side Highway medallions. Thre are 5 of them, representing various seals of the City of New York over history. They also are lettered A to E on the reverse. They weigh about 60 pounds each and are made of cast iron. . After much moving them around, as mentioned above, I decided to make floor display stands from 2×4’s (not done yet). You can’t display them on your wall as they are way too heavy and God forbid they fall off. I wouldn’t put them in the ground and walk on them, as they are really cool artifacts of NYC history. The original NYC store selling them was in the Municipal District and had a lot of quirky NYC stuff. I brought mine home to Astoria on the N train.
There were two prices–possibly 200 for cleaned and maybe 150 for “time grimed”.
I have bought several over time–a lot at 400 or so, but the ebay prices keep climbing. A recent offering was the complete set of 5 for 8500 (yes, 1700 each). i think there is a current mania for NYC memorabilia.

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Jerry Friedman June 28, 2020 - 3:44 pm

Would love to see a photo of your finished project! As I noted above, mine have been in various garages as I’ve moved. But still cool to look at.

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Gary June 28, 2020 - 3:20 pm

There’s no such thing as Interstate 495 in Man– oh, wait, somebody beat me to it. Never mind. 😀

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Tal Barzilai June 29, 2020 - 11:34 pm

Although the I-495 may not actually run in Manhattan, it does go pretty much throughout Long Island from the Queens-Midtown Tunnel in Hunters Point and LIC all the way out to Montauk and is known as the Long Island Expressway (LIE) and I have been at its end one time when I used to take classes at Dowling College out in Oakdale.

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Tal Barzilai July 1, 2020 - 6:26 pm

I meant to say Riverhead as the eastern end for the LIE, while it’s NY 27 that goes all the way to Montauk after starting in Park Slope as the Prospect Expressway, though the does make a long route unlike many other interstate highways that have three numbers on their routes.

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