STITCH LINES...... Ramblings on life as a quilter, stitcher, traveler, photographer, gardener and lover of books, cats and fine chocolate....

Friday, July 5, 2013

NYC Day 2 - The High Line

I find each time I visit Manhattan I become more and more interested in the history and the architecture of the city. I must re-read Edward Rutherford's novel New York. It is SO good and tells so much of the city's history and how it was built. Manhattan has so many "neighbourhoods," each with its own distinct flavour. Saturday dawned clear and sunny so we decided it was the perfect day to head to Chelsea and the High Line. This was number one on our list if we got a sunny day - to explore Chelsea and Greenwich Village. The High Line is a public park built on a historic freight rail line, elevated above the streets on Manhattan's West Side.

The High Line is currently about 1.5 miles long (still one more section to be added), and includes a variety of "spaces" - woodlands, grasslands, meadows, sundecks, seating areas, lawns, and continuous plantings of more than 300 species of perennials,  grasses, shrubs and trees. More than 4 million people visit each year, making it one of the city's most visited public parks per acre. You can view a Blooms List for each month of the year on the Friends of the High Line website here; it features a list for each section of the High Line of what you'll see blooming that month, complete with photos so you can easily identify the plants you aren't familiar with.

Being a gardener I thoroughly enjoyed our leisurely stroll along the full length - in fact when we got to the end, we both agreed we'd walk all the way back. Along with the beautiful plantings all along the way, there is interesting architecture, sculpture and art to view. A current sculpture installation is titled Busted and includes figurative sculptures, portraits and commemorative monuments.
If you enjoy history and stories of "how things happen,"  I hope you'll enjoy reading the story below of how the High Line came to be. I have taken this info from a display board at the south end. The photos throughout this post were all taken as we walked the length of the High Line.

So... "walk with me" and enjoy the scenery...

General Theological Seminary

In the 1840's the west side of Manhattan was the country's busiest industrial waterfront, with docks, factories and warehouses lining the Hudson River.  In 1847, the City of New York authorized street-level railroad tracks down 10th and 11th Avenues. Trains served the industrial buildings along the river and avenues of the west side. By the early 1850's, street-level railroad traffic was causing so many accidents that the West Side's freight corridor became known as "Death Avenue". The New York Central Railroad hired men on horseback, called the West Side Cowboys, to ride in front of trains, waving pedestrians out of the way with red flags.
Wall sculpture of tin and mirrors

After decades of debate about the dangerous conditions on "Death Avenue", in 1929 the City of New York and the New York Central Railroad began the West Side Improvement, a massive infrastructure project to eliminate street-level rail corridors. This project transformed the west side of the city, eliminating 105 street-level railroad crossings and included an elevated section of track below West 34th Street, now known as the High Line.
Lawn area for sunbathing/picnicing

Five years later the High Line opened as an active freight rail line, running from West 34th where it connects to an underground network of tracks to St. John's Park Terminal  at Spring Street. Thirty feet above the street, the High Line was designed to connect directly to the upper-floor loading docks of factories and warehouses, allowing trains to roll through buildings with deliveries of milk, meat, produce and other goods. For three decades after it was built, the High Line delivered so much of the city's fresh food, it was nicknamed the "Lifeline of New York."

By the 1960's, industrial use began to decline on Manhattan's west side. The advance of the Interstate highway system and the growth of the trucking industry lead to a slowing of rail traffic on the High Line and at other railroads across the United States. In the 1960's the southernmost section of the High Line was demolished and by the 90's another section would be demolished.
In the 1970's a group of local property owners lobbied for the High Line's demolition, calling the structure a blight on the neighbourhood. Chelsea resident, activist and railroad buff Peter Obletz challenged the demolition efforts in court and tried to re-establish rail service on the High Line. Obletz eventually purchased the High Line for $10 from the railroad company, a transaction which was later overturned in court.
In 1980, the last freight train rolled down the High Line, carrying three carloads of frozen turkeys. Then the rail tracks sat unused and plants began to sprout. As grass and wildflower seeds were carried by the wind, insects and birds, a new soil layer formed. Gradually a wild landscape took the place of the freight trains.

In 1999, two local residents met at a board meeting where local leaders were discussing plans for demolition of the High Line. They formed a non-profit group "Friends of the High Line" to advocate for its preservation and transformation into public open space.
The rest is history- research, planning studies, a competition for design proposals, and lots of the usual "red tape." Construction finally began in the spring of 2006 and section one opened to the public in June 2009 and the second section opened two years later. The third and final section at the Rail Yards is currently underway with the first phase projected to open in 2014.

Huge apartment building
You can view the High Line Design plan here. Hover your mouse over the red circles for photos. You can also view the video and slideshow (upper right corner) for a better understanding of the whole project and its construction. The Ask a Gardener and FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) features are also interesting to read...
Our time on the High Line was such a refreshing break from the hot concrete that is Manhattan in  July! It was reasonably quiet (well, quieter than Times Square for sure!), uncrowded, relaxing and green! I would definitely walk the High Line again if I had the opportunity. It's certainly a pleasant and "different" experience for NYC! Two thumbs up from me...

Empire State Building in the distance

All windows on left side of this bldg. were installed at angles - not sure why?


Sundeck with chaises, and view of the Hudson River and New Jersey


"Gardens always mean something else, man absolutely uses one thing to say another."
~ Robert Harbison


GailM. said...

Nice. I just knew about that park because of a show on TV recently. I'm glad you got to visit it. I will visit it definitely on my next trip to NY.

Pamela Gordon said...

I really enjoyed this Linda. My cousin told me about the High Line then I saw an article about it in Better Homes and Gardens last October. It's something I'd like to see next time I go to NYC. I hope there's a next time!! Great pictures and lots of information. Thanks!

Susan Elliott said...

Oh! I really enjoyed reading and seeing this post! I went to Chelsea twice last year and never made it to the High Line. Now I really want to go. You're a temptress!!

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