When people in West Chelsea think about railroads these days they usually think about the High Line, that famous “park in the sky” built atop the New York Central Railroad’s old freight viaduct. But last month an artifact of another railroad came to West 22nd Street, and it’s worth stepping off the High Line to see it in person.

Silas-Plaque

Historic bridge plaque from the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway

This plaque, which now graces the exterior wall of sculptor Silas Seandel’s studio at 551 W. 22nd Street, traveled across the ocean from England, where it once adorned the side of a railway bridge. According to the National Railway Museum in York, the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway (LB & SCR) existed from 1845 – 1922, operating services from London to the south coast of England. The Museum was unable to confirm which bridge Silas’ plaque came from, but since the main bridges of the LB & SCR spanned the River Thames in London, they speculate his may have come from one of those bridges. Railways in England only used plaques like these on important bridges, so they are rare. Particularly in America.

According to the Museum, the cross on the plaque represents London, the two dolphins Brighton, the three half lions/half ships are what are known as the “Cinque” Ports: Sandwich, Romney, Dover, Hythe and Hastings, plus originally the two Ancient Towns of Rye & Winchelsea. The star and crescent represents Portsmouth.

Silas purchased the plaque from a “picker” he met on the street one day in 1972. The fellow was unloading a van containing antique artifacts that had been shipped overseas from Britain, and the colorful plaque caught his eye. He installed it on the exterior wall of the brownstone he owned at the time, on 22nd Street between 7th & 8th Avenues, but in 1979 moved his family (and his studio) to the Wild West of the 500 block. When he learned that his former building was about to be demolished earlier this year, he was able to persuade the contractor to let him have the plaque, despite the fact that many railfans and antique dealers were also interested. (Silas is a very charming and persuasive guy.) This is what it looked like a few weeks before the building was torn down:

242 W. 22 Street, the plaque's first American home

242 W. 22 Street, the plaque’s first American home

After transporting it three blocks west (and using a technique developed by the ancient Egyptians to roll the heavy plaque out of his van…), Silas had to completely restore the now colorless medallion. Here’s a closeup:

The plaque before restoration

He had to special-order paint that was historically accurate, then painstakingly repaint the entire thing. Here he is with son Marco about halfway through the process:

Silas and son Marco about halfway through the restoration process

Installing the plaque was a complex process that took months of planning and a team of strong, creative, problem-solvers. They ended up using an ancient block & tackle system to hoist the 400-plus pound, cast-iron medallion to its new spot on the exterior wall of Silas’ studio. You can watch a 3-minute time-lapse video I posted on YouTube here; below are a few photographs.

Silas cradles the beautifully restored plaque before it’s lifted to its new spot:

Silas Seandel and his restored plaque

Then the team hoists the plaque, using an old-fashioned block & tackle system:

The team hoists the plaque, using an old-fashioned block & tackle system

The setup on the roof:

20160519-DSC03436

Silas and colleague Ray pass a tool between two ladders. These guys are like acrobats:

Silas and Ray pass a tool between two ladders

Incredibly, all the pre-drilled holes are in the right place….

Incredibly, all the pre-drilled holes are in the right place

Which makes this one happy artist:

Which makes this one happy artist.

Hey High Line: there’s a new railroad in town!

Sculptor Silas Seandel with his newly installed medallion

 

Share

{ 0 comments }

Seventy-five years ago tomorrow, the world’s attention was focused on events overseas. The Nazis had just bombed an English port, and the Axis powers were gaining momentum. On the front page of the New York Times Sunday edition for March 29, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called on the American people to stand firm in support of its Allies who were blocking “dictators in their march toward domination of the world.” Readers today won’t recognize the political climate; looking back on the recent presidential election, FDR praised his opponent, saying “The leader of the Republican Party himself — Mr. Wendell Willkie — in word and action, is showing what patriotic Americans mean by rising above partisanship and rallying to the common cause.”

Meanwhile, back at home women were buying Easter hats – just $19.95 at B. Altman. The first Peabody Awards – dubbed “Pulitzer Prizes of air” – had just been announced; the Book-of-the-Month Club featured Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls; and a two-room studio at the Chelsea Hotel could be had for $19 a week. Budd Schulberg’s novel What Makes Sammy Run? was reviewed in the Book Review, and an article in the Magazine explored the question: “Are Movies Good or Bad” for children?

And then there was this photograph, which ran under the headline “Last ‘Cowboy’ Rides Over Tenth Ave. Route; Tracks Now Elevated, Horses Get New Job.”

George Hayde, the last West Side Cowboy, on March 29, 1941. Copyright Times Wide World/The New York Times/Redux. Used with permission

George Hayde, the last West Side Cowboy. March 29, 1941. Copyright Times Wide World/The New York Times/Redux. Used with permission

The picture captures George Hayde, age twenty-one, who became New York City’s last urban cowboy with this final ride up Tenth Avenue. He and “his faithful bay, Cyclone” were leading a line of fourteen rail cars loaded with oranges. They were performing, for the last time in history, a unique job created by an 185os city ordinance that permitted freight trains to share the busy streets with pedestrians, dog-carts, bicycles, cars and trucks, on condition they observe a speed limit of six miles per hour and that “a proper person… precede the trains on horseback to give necessary warning in a suitable manner on their approach.”

These “proper persons” came to be known as West Side Cowboys, and to give their warning they waved a red flag by day and a red lantern after sundown. Still, so many people were injured and killed by trains that Tenth Avenue became known as “Death Avenue.” In 1934, as part of Robert Moses’ West Side Improvement Project, the tracks were elevated and tucked behind factories and warehouses, mostly out of sight. Trains continued to run on the avenue for another seven years, until George and Cyclone brought the practice to an end.  They did not, the Times confirmed, exceed the speed limit on their final ride, and fterwards, Cyclone and his cohort — two other horses employed by the railroad — went on to new jobs at a riding academy.

The story of the West Side Cowboy, along with photographs that document this unimaginable practice — freight trains and horses lumbering up the avenue — became a popular part of the High Line’s creation story, and have been reproduced countless times since Robert Hammond and Joshua David founded Friends of the High Line in 1999.  I wrote about it in my book and in umpteen articles on this blog (including this one, which includes rare video footage of a train running south on Tenth Avenue). But in the process of doing photo research, I discovered something I hadn’t realized before:  the famous photograph we all know and love, the one that became iconic around the world as people told and retold the story of the High Line, is not just any old West Side Cowboy. It is, in fact, of George Hayde:

George and Cyclone cross 18th Street

George and Cyclone cross 18th Street

The more I searched, the more I learned about his final ride. For example: in the photo above, George and Cyclone have just passed the old Merchants Refrigerating Company warehouse (today the headquarters of the Drug Enforcement Agency) and are crossing 18th Street. In another photo taken moments later, Cyclone gets a bit feisty and rears up, perhaps because he’s not used to having his photo taken:

Hayde_18th

But notice something about the train: there are no men standing at the front. Now look at another iconic High Line photo, this one taken a few blocks later, as the train passes the former R.C. Williams warehouse, today’s Avenues School, at 26th Street. Note that three men have hopped aboard to take part in the historic ride. [Note: click on a photo to enlarge it.]

George Hayde's final ride, passing today's Avenues School. Photo courtesy Kalmback Publishing

George & Cyclone passing today’s Avenues School. Photo courtesy Kalmbach Publishing

But the most exciting discovery I made is that the last photograph that (to my knowledge) exists of this final freight train on New York City streets, was taken from the High Line itself. Look at it again:

George Hayde, the last West Side Cowboy, on March 29, 1941. Copyright Times Wide World/The New York Times/Redux. Used with permission

Copyright Times Wide World/The New York Times/Redux. Used with permission

This is a crummy screenshot (see my note about why I used it below), but you can see the three men, George’s big floppy hat and wide, triangular stirrups. And more important: you can also see a sign that says “Esso” in the upper right hand corner. A bit more research confirmed that in the 1940s there was indeed an Esso station on the southwest corner of Tenth Avenue at 29th Street:

Esso Station on West 29th Street, 10th Avenue. http://www.oldnyc.org/#710521f-a http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dc-f2c6-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Esso Station on West 29th Street, 10th Avenue. Photo courtesy New York Public Library

But a puzzling question remains: in the pre-drone era, how did the photographer manage to get a photograph of George and Cyclone from above, in the dead center of Tenth Avenue? And then my friend Randy Johnson, who oversees construction of the High Line’s final section known as the Tenth Avenue Spur, invited me to have a look at the work-in-progress. For the fun of it, I snapped a shot looking south on Tenth Avenue:

Looking south from the Tenth Avenue Spur at 30th Street

Looking south from the Tenth Avenue Spur at 30th Street

As it turns out, I was standing in exactly the same spot as the photographer who captured George and Cyclone in 1941. Today the traffic goes only in one direction (north), the streets are paved, not cobbled, there are no railroad tracks to be seen, and a black SUV has replaced the cowboy and his faithful bay.

There’s one other cool detail worth pointing out. In the photo of the Esso station, have a look at the tenement on the opposite side of the High Line, and note the distinctive cutaway pattern on its exterior wall. Now look at an aerial shot I took from the roof of the Morgan Mail Facility in July 2012, which shows that old building, still recognizable by its strange, layered exterior:

540 West 29th Street

Former tenement at 508 West 29th Street, from the Morgan Mail Facility

The people who live in this former tenement installed window boxes that always have lovely, well-cared flowers, which I’ve been photographing for years. (See here for a close-up.) Back then, there was an auto repair and collision shop where the Esso Station once stood; today, it’s a construction site for a new condominium, one of dozens that now line both sides of the High Line. (My 2012 picture also captures the wonderful pasting by the artist JR of Brandon of Many Ribs from the Lakota Tribe.)

It’s hard to decide what’s most surprising about the many changes this little remembrance of George Hayde’s final ride conjures. The fact that 75 years ago there were mile-long freight trains that ran in both directions along Tenth (and Eleventh and Twelfth) Avenues? That the President was praising the patriotism of his rival? That cowboys were employed in Manhattan? That cobbled streets gave way to bike lanes? That former tenement buildings now have giant works of work on their exterior walls? That the DEA has its headquarters in an old refrigerated warehouse along the High Line?

Take your pick. In any case: Happy Anniversary, George and Cyclone.

 

George Hayde, the last West Side Cowboy, on March 29, 1941. Copyright Times Wide World/The New York Times/Redux. Used with permission

A NOTE ABOUT THE CRUMMY SCREENSHOT: I discovered the image at the top of this post while doing photo research for a lecture. It’s apparently buried somewhere deep in the archives of the New York Times, and to get a clean, digital print I was required to pay a minimum fee of $250 to initiate a search that may or may not have been fruitful. Instead, I was allowed to use my own screenshot from the actual newspaper and pay a reasonable licensing fee. Viewers of the PBS NewsHour will remember a great story last month about newly discovered photos depicting historic moments and well-known figures in African-American history that the Times recently unearthed from its archive. Here’s another example of what lurks in that archive. Now, perhaps, the newspaper will send someone into the nether reaches of its filing kingdom to find the print, digitize it, and share this gem that has been hidden away for 75 years. [Copyright Times Wide World/The New York Times/Redux. Used with permission]

 

Share

{ 2 comments }

Lehigh Valley No. 79: The Aerial Shot

by Annik on June 24, 2015

Hoboken Terminal from the 8th Floor of the Whitney Museum

Hoboken Terminal from the 8th Floor of the Whitney Museum

Yesterday I posted two ideas for shooting the Lehigh Valley No. 79 as it sails north on the Hudson River later this week to a Coast Guard-mandated drydock inspection in Waterford, NY. [Follow @museumbarge on Twitter for schedule details.]

Here’s another suggestion for those who like the aerial perspective: the 8th floor terrace of the new Whitney Museum. If you point your camera west you’ll get a shot of this historic barge, a rare monument to the Lighterage Era and currently a floating museum based Red Hook, as it passes the grand old Hoboken Terminal.

Hoboken Terminal at night. Photo by Scott Mlyn.

Hoboken Terminal at night. Photo by Scott Mlyn.

Designed by architect Kenneth Murchison, the Beaux Arts Terminal greeted passengers in a grand style by allowing the sun to stream through stained-glass windows made by Louis Tiffany. It opened as a rail and ferry terminal in 1907, just seven years before the Lehigh Valley No. 79 was built in Perth Amboy.  At night, the big red letters on the eastern facade of the Hoboken Terminal light up to read ERIE LACKAWANNA, and the recently restored clock tower marks time for vessels passing by.

There are a million other reasons to visit the Whitney (see my piece here about the history of the site the new building occupies), but on my mind today is Louis Lozowick, an Art Deco-era painter who emigrated from Russia the year before the Hoboken Terminal opened. I first discovered his work in the WPA Guide to New York City, published in 1939 with the intent to “indicate the human character of the city, to point out the evidence of achievements and shortcomings, urban glamor as well as urban sordidness.” The editors selected Lozowick’s  wonderful drawing of a railroad barge being pulled by a tugboat to illustrate Lower Manhattan in the 1930s.

Lower Manhattan, 1936. Lithograph by Louis Lozowick. US National Archives.

Lower Manhattan, 1936. Lithograph by Louis Lozowick. US National Archives.

After seeing that evocation of the lighterage system I embarked on a hunt for more of Lozowick’s work, found a giant archive on the Smithsonian’s website, and got lost for hours. He was devoted to bridges, buildings, river traffic — particularly tugboats — and the industrial iconography of cities: gantries, factories, smokestacks, water tanks: many of the elements folks love about the historic landscape of the High Line.  Most of Lozowick’s work was in black & white, which contributes a kind of moodiness and authenticity to his scenes.

It’s easy to fall in love with Louis Lozowick, and as I clicked through the pages of the archive I was amazed at the range of subjects he painted. His wife told the New York Times that “He always did what he wanted to do, he didn’t care about prevalent styles, nor about the market. He was doing abstractions when others were doing realist work, and when others were doing abstract things, he was doing realist pieces.”

What took my breath away at the Whitney Museum was Lozowick’s drawing of a lynching, which is part of a powerful collection of prints made to support a 1930s anti-lynching bill in Congress. It’s completely unlike the rest of his work, in part because it evokes a force of such raw humanity. There are a few other Lozowick’s in the Whitney’s inaugural show, “America is Hard to See,” including some of his abstractions; you can see all of the museum’s holdings here, including “Lynching” (1936).

And: if you’re there to watch the Lehigh Valley No. 79 sail by later this week, be sure to check out Victoria Hutson Huntley’s 1934 depiction of “Lower New York,” which includes an elevated railroad and a couple of tugboats; it’ll put you in just the right mood. The Whitney kindly allowed me to reproduce Huntley’s lithograph here. [As always, click an image to enlarge it.]

Victoria Hutson Huntley, Lower New York, 1934. Lithograph. Whitney museum of American Art, NY

Victoria Hutson Huntley, “Lower New York, 1934.” Lithograph. Whitney Museum of American Art, currently on view in the inaugural exhibition “America is Hard to See” (May 1 – Sept. 27, 2015). Used with permission.

Okay, I confess this post digressed from its original purpose: to identify the best aerial spot in Manhattan to photograph the Lehigh Valley No. 79 as it begins its northerly voyage in a few days. But this is what happens when you start thinking about railroads, tugboats, the Hudson River and Manhattan’s edge. Everything around us is connected to the past, and the Whitney is both glorious museum and grand, public parapet that puts so much of our cultural and industrial history on display. It’s what the WPA writers considered “urban glamor.”

 

 

 

 

Share

{ 0 comments }

Yesterday’s post about the upcoming Hudson River voyage of the Lehigh Valley No. 79 focused on the three former terminal warehouses in view of the High Line: the Baltimore & Ohio’s; the Starrett Lehigh building; and the Terminal and Central Stores complex. But there are several monuments on the river itself that will make fantastic perches for shooting the floating museum as it heads north.

Pier 66 with Frying Pan, John J. Harvey, and railroad tracks

Pier 66 with Frying Pan, John J. Harvey, and railroad tracks

First: Pier 66, at 24th Street. Originally built for the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad — later known as the Erie Lackawanna — this float bridge is now home to two historic boats: the John J. Harvey and the Frying Pan. As part of the preservation effort of this Lighterage Era structure the railroad tracks that once connected the barge to the Starrett Lehigh warehouse across today’s West Side Highway are still there, and you can ride a bike across them. You can also grab a beer and burger at the Bar & Grill while you wait for the Lehigh Valley No. 79 to pass by.

69th Street Transfer Bridge with Clearwater Sloop in the background

69th Street Transfer Bridge with Clearwater Sloop in the background

Or: head a bit farther uptown and you’ll find the gorgeous, brooding remains of the 69th Street Transfer Bridge, once used by the New York Central Railroad to transfer railroad cars that had floated across the river from Weehawken, NJ.

For the ideal shot, position yourself on the river’s edge and point your camera so you can capture both the Lehigh Valley No. 79 and the infrastructure of the float bridge as the barge passes by. This way you can get a bit of living history in motion. The day I shot the photo above I was lucky to capture Pete Seeger’s Clearwater Sloop as it tacked across the river just a bit north of the transfer bridge.

Follow @museumbarge on Twitter for updates about the barge’s schedule.

For more information about the lighterage system read this excellent short history that includes reminiscences from the men who captained and worked on the tug barges.

Share

{ 1 comment }

History Sailing By the High Line

by Annik on June 21, 2015

Starrett-Lehigh (center) flanked by two other railroad warehouses: Central Stores (at right) and B&O (at left)

Starrett-Lehigh (center) flanked by two other former railroad warehouses: Terminal and Central Stores (right) and B&O (left)

One of the great monuments in view of the High Line is the Starrett-Lehigh Building, a behemoth that straddles the superblock between 26th and 27th Streets on Eleventh Avenue. Look at it for more than a minute anytime, day or night, and you’ll most likely see a light flashing in one of the eight miles of windows that circles this enormous building. That’s because it’s filled with design, magazine, new media and advertising firms, and many of its offices double as photo studios.

But in 1931 this 2.2 million square foot building served a very different purpose: it was a terminal warehouse for the Lehigh Valley Railroad, built with funds from the Starrett Investment Corporation. It played a vital role in the Lighterage Era, a time before bridges and tunnels enabled food and commercial goods to be swiftly transferred across the Hudson River. The workhorses of that era were the railroad barges, giant floating platforms that could carry as many as a dozen boxcars from terminals in New Jersey to warehouses in Manhattan. Known as “lighters” or car floats, they were a fixture of the Hudson River landscape for decades. In the 1930s, National Geographic reported that as many as 5,000 barges crossed the Hudson every day. Phillip Lopate, in his excellent book Waterfront, observed that “In their heyday, the barges were almost as synonymous with New York’s iconography as its skyscrapers.”

Railroad car floats in New York Harbor. Photo: New York State Archives

Railroad car floats in New York Harbor. Photo: New York State Archives

But not every barge carried actual boxcars; a significant number of vessels in the lighterage system were constructed of wood and ferried “less than carload lots” of perishable goods like coffee, flour, rice, sugar, and spices in their protected spaces. Goods were brought on board by longshoremen at a railroad terminal or were transferred on the water from a ship. These tug-powered barges were the only link between ships and railways, allowing cargo that had traveled across oceans to be offloaded and transferred to a railroad terminal like the one built for the Lehigh Valley Railroad on the Far West Side of Manhattan. Once inside, the goods could be stored, re-packed and re-shipped to their final destination.

In the days before trucks hit the newly built Interstate Highway System and airplanes took to the skies, the lighterage system was a vital part of America’s commercial transportation network. It was how stuff got from one place to another.

Later this month millions of us, from the Hudson River’s southern gateway all the way north past Albany, will have the chance to witness a rare and exciting event as the 101-year old Lehigh Valley No. 79, the only surviving all-wooden unit from the Lighterage Era, makes a 35-hour voyage up the river to a dry dock in Waterford, New York. Visitors on the High Line will have the opportunity to watch a very particular bit of history in action as the barge passes three former railroad warehouses located between 26th – 28th Streets: the Baltimore & Ohio (now the site of Bedrock Mini Storage at 241 11th Avenue); the Starrett-Lehigh and the Terminal & Central Stores complex (home to shops, art galleries, and a furniture company). [Note: click on the first image in this post to enlarge it and see all three.]

The Waterfront Museum. Photo by David Sharps

The Waterfront Museum. Photo by David Sharps

Today the barge is the Waterfront Museum, founded in 1986 and dedicated to promoting an understanding of New York’s maritime history and the ecological importance of the Hudson River estuary. It’s also the home of David Sharps, a former cruise ship entertainer who rescued the barge from the place where it lay grounded in New Jersey, cleared 300 tons of mud that had settled in the hold, and restored it to seaworthy condition. He raised his two daughters on the barge and still lives there at Pier 44 in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

Sometime in the next week the Lehigh Valley No. 79 will depart Red Hook and begin its voyage north. There are countless spots on both sides of the Hudson River, from Brooklyn to Waterford, where you can watch this marvelous historic barge pass by. The actual date will be announced soon, but for now there’s a 7-day window, beginning June 23rd. Follow @museumbarge on Twitter or the official Facebook page for details about timing and location. Folks traveling on the barge will Tweet constant updates so you can position yourself on a bridge, at a park, on a mountaintop, or anywhere along the river to take your photo and share it with the world.

The Lehigh Valley N0. 79 has made only three trips up the Hudson River. This summer’s passage was mandated by the U.S. Coast Guard, which ordered the vessel to be dry-docked and inspected after Hurricane Sandy. Any necessary repairs will be made in Waterford and then the barge will return to its home in Brooklyn. It’s an expensive project, and the Museum is gratefully accepting donations; go here if you’d like to contribute. I just donated $79 in honor of the official number the barge was assigned by the Lehigh Valley Railroad when it rolled off the Perth Amboy Dry Dock in 1914 and assumed its role in the vibrant marriage of river and rail that constituted the Lighterage Era.

For more information about the Waterfront Museum and Lehigh Valley No. 79, visit the official website here, or download the National Register of Historic Registration form [PDF] which includes architectural details about the barge and history of the Lighterage Era.

 

Share

{ 1 comment }

New Home for the Whitney. Choto courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art

New Home for the Whitney. Photo courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art

When architect Renzo Piano speaks about the Whitney Museum of American Art he uses his entire body to illustrate the artistic intent of his new building. During the museum’s official dedication ceremony he gestured first to the east, and a view that cuts across Manhattan Island. “This building talks to the city,” he said, then turned left and pointed to the Hudson River. “It also talks to rest of the country: all the way west, to Los Angeles, if you look carefully,” and then to the world beyond. This new building, with its massive windows and expansive 360 degree views, seems designed to enable a sort of outward-looking contemplation and engagement that most museums, with their emphasis on what’s inside, right in front of you, don’t encourage.  “I’m pretty sure that beauty will save the world,” Piano said, and this new home for one of the country’s foremost collections of American art makes the point at every turn that all the beauty inside is made more powerful by its connection to a greater, wider landscape.

This is the fifth article in my series “High Line Architecture.” Like the previous other pieces, it’s not an architectural or aesthetic review but instead a look the history of the place a building occupies, and a contemplation of how the landscape around the High Line has changed over time. (See below for links to the previous articles; as always, click an image to enlarge it.)

Renzo Piano: "I'm pretty sure that beauty will save the world."

Renzo Piano: “I’m pretty sure that beauty will save the world.”

There’s something felicitous about the fact that this quintessentially American institution, one that celebrates creative inventiveness and innovation, sits on land that’s man-made.  When the first Europeans arrived at these shores in 1609, they would have sailed or paddled over the spot where the Whitney now stands.  Gradually, beginning in the early 19th century, this watery area was filled in so an early generation of developers and real-estate schemers could start building stuff on it. Like much of the far West Side — virtually everything west of Tenth Avenue, including the High Line — the Whitney sits not on Manhattan schist but on landfill. (Interestingly, as the map below shows, the High Line roughly follows the landfill line all the way to the Rail Yards. This makes a walk from one end of the park to the other a great way to contemplate not only how we transformed what was on our island but also how we transformed the geography of the island itself.)

The original 1609 shoreline (dotted line), a Lenape Indian Trail, and the High Line.

The original 1609 shoreline and the High Line. Map by Marty Schnure.

The huge complex of buildings across the street from the Whitney, the West Coast Apartments, is another example of  ingenuity: modern commercial refrigeration was pioneered here. In the late 1890s, the Manhattan Refrigerating Company developed one of the earliest and most technologically advanced cold-storage facilities, based on a complex system of underground pipes that fed cooled water from the Hudson River into a huge, multi-storey warehouse that eventually would connect with the High Line, itself an innovation that opened in 1934.

This little patch of land(fill) also has a long and distinguished foodie history. As early as 1879 there were outdoor farmers’ markets here; the neighborhood was filled with merchants who came from all over New York state, from Long Island to the Hudson Valley, to sell poultry, meat, seafood, eggs, butter, vegetables, beer. You can still trip over the Belgian block (also known as cobblestones) that were here long ago, or take refuge from a downpour under the metal canopies that sheltered grocers in rainy weather.

The photo below is from the first decade of the 20th century and shows the area where the Whitney now stands. This year two restaurants — Santina (under the High Line) and Untitled (in the Whitney) — opened on this very spot, each in a virtual glass box with windows onto the street and a commitment to serving food made from local farmers and growers. Generations removed from the men who came here with horse and donkey carts, they include a welcome 21st century cohort: urban farmers who grow produce on rooftops in Brooklyn and Queens.

But the rich food history stretches back even further:  long before there was a railroad or a farmers’ market here, the area was a prime hunting and fishing grounds for the Lenape people. Using data from the Welikia Project, the 1609 shoreline map also shows the location of a Lenape Indian trail that runs over land now occupied by the handful of remaining meatpacking plants that still operate underneath the High Line and gave the neighborhood its name.

Farmers' Market at Gansevoort Street, circa 1910s. Courtesy NY Public Library

Farmers’ Market at Gansevoort Street, circa 1910s. Courtesy NY Public Library

The Whitney site was also important in the military history of the United States: in 1808, in anticipation of a war against Britain, a fort was hastily built here on pilings erected in the Hudson River. Known as Fort Gansevoort, it was named after the revolutionary war hero Peter Gansevoort.  Some five decades later, Gansevoort’s grandson, Herman Melville, would spend almost twenty years just across the street at the Gansevoort Dock, where he worked as a Customs Inspector.

Fort Gansevoort, Coursey New York Public Library

Fort Gansevoort, Coursey New York Public Library

All this history: food, trains, technology, soldiering. A bit of river at the edge of a forest becomes a fort, a farmers market, a multi-storey refrigerated warehouse with a railroad passing through it, a world-class park and now an art museum that urges us to look outward, through its many windows, onto the wide and complex world we inhabit. Inside, the museum deploys art and artists to push the boundaries ever farther and inspire and challenge those acts of contemplation and engagement.

The whole project feels experimental, even radical. On the fifth floor, the architects provided a sitting area that runs the length of the museum and faces west, encouraging visitors to sit and contemplate the Hudson River. All day long the boats go by: water taxis, ferries, oil tankers, cargo ships, police vessels, luxury yachts, cruise ships, kayaks and barges carrying gasoline and home heating oil, like the one in my photo below. On the West Side Highway cars, trucks and motorcycles rumble along. Between the river and the highway cyclists, bladers and skateboarders glide by on the bike path. All the while, visitors in the new Whitney Museum are sitting and watching. Behind and above them, racing across the wall and visible to all those mariners, drivers, cyclists and pedestrians outside, are the “Running People” of Jonathan Borofsky, an artist known for works that capture figures in movement: people walking, running, flying. This museum, resting on its man-made foundation in a place saturated with invention and history, has taken us into a new era of art appreciation, one where we are always engaging and never quite sitting still.

Piano conveyed everything the new Whitney stands for when he said, in his closing remarks: “Thank you for coming. The building is yours.”

Borofsky_Whitney

“Running People at 2,616,216” (1978 – 79) by Jonathan Borofsky. The Whitney Museum of American Art, 5th floor, the inaugural exhibition “America is Hard to See.”

 

Renzo-Piano

 

To learn more about the Gansevoort Market area of the West Village, read Tony Robins’ excellent walking tour which is filled with history and illustrations. Download a PDF or read it online here.

Architecture on the High Line
: click the image below to read previous posts in the series

Tim Saternow Furniture Exchange Warehouse, 525 West 22nd Street, 1940 (Spears Building), 2010 Watercolor on paper, 60x40”

The Spears Building

 

 

 

 

 

Morgan-Aerial_October-2012_1280x800

The Morgan Mail Facility

Cass Gilbert-designed warehouse, now Avenues School

RC Williams Warehouse / Avenues School

The Westyard Distribution Center

Westyard Distribution Center

 

 

 

 

 

Share

{ 1 comment }

Into the Wild

For Johnny. The genius of the High Line at the Rail Yards is that it’s two different places at once, yet each part perfectly captures the essence of this now mile-and-a-half long, exquisitely beautiful park. [As always, click an image to enlarge it.] Every landscape tells a story, whether its urban, rural, or wilderness, and […]

Share
Read the full article →

The Crossroads at the High Line

Tomorrow, when visitors enter the third and final section of the High Line at the Rail Yards, their first footsteps will take them to a unique spot in this now mile-and-a-half long park. Some day — not tomorrow, but in a year or so — this little knuckle known as The Crossroads will be the […]

Share
Read the full article →

High Line Architecture: The Spears Building

The fourth entry in the High Line Architecture series is the Spears Building on West 22nd Street. [Scroll down for links to the previous pieces; as always, click an image to enlarge it.] Once a furniture warehouse operated by Spear & Co., this handsome brick building was constructed in 1880 by Kinney Brothers and used […]

Share
Read the full article →

Ancient Footfalls Beneath the High Line

Of the many additions to the revised & updated version of On the High Line, one of my favorites is a new map created by Maps For Good co-founder Marty Schnure. It uses data from the Welikia Project to show the path of an historic Native American Indian trail that once cut below today’s Gansevoort […]

Share
Read the full article →

Farewell, Paul VanMeter

I first met Paul VanMeter on a rainy day in Philadelphia in 2011. Rick Darke, our great mutual friend, had organized a visit to the Reading Viaduct with the gardening staff of Friends of the High Line. With unabating enthusiasm Paul led us through the streets of Philadelphia, stopping every few blocks to whip out […]

Share
Read the full article →

Welcome to the Time Machine

The blast of winter early this week was the most beautiful of the year. The snow was dense and heavy, and unlike the powder of recent storms, it hung around for a few days. It attached itself to everything, even the stone cross on the roof of the Guardian Angel Church. Blanketing entire trees — […]

Share
Read the full article →

More Reflections on the High Line

I’ve stopped marveling at the fact that every time I visit the High Line I notice something new; it’s just the reality of this place, and one of its many charms.  But here’s a new view that surprised me yesterday, something I never noticed before: the building across the street from the Tenth Avenue Square, […]

Share
Read the full article →

The Slow Park

The High Line once again has the “disappearing railroad blues,” having closed to visitors earlier this morning because a sheet of ice descended on New York City in the wake of last week’s snow storm. The High Line is our Slow Park. For visitors, it exerts an almost gravitational force, slowing their pace and opening […]

Share
Read the full article →

High Line Architecture: Morgan General Mail Facility

This third piece on High Line architecture focuses on the Morgan General Mail Facility on Tenth Avenue between 28th and 30th Streets. Of the buildings I’ve covered so far in this series (the Westyard Distribution Center next door and the former R.C. Williams warehouse a few blocks south) the Morgan has the oldest and richest […]

Share
Read the full article →

The Funny Thing About Landfill

These guys are swimming on land. Or, more precisely, on landfill. And, on an unseasonably warm December day, they seemed to be enjoying themselves as they went about their business repairing giant piles that help support a roadway that’s shared (and not always so nicely) by joggers, bikers, bladers, pedestrians, baby strollers, cars and giant […]

Share
Read the full article →

Billy Collins and Consolations in the Winter Landscape

“It is possible to be struck by a meteor or a single-engine plane while reading in a chair at home….” Those are the opening lines of Billy Collins’ poem “Picnic, Lightning,” part of an exhibition of public literature at the New York Botanical Garden. Throughout the garden this holiday season one finds Collins’ evocative poems, […]

Share
Read the full article →

El Anatsui’s Magical Bridge

Last week, men in helmets attached to climbing ropes rappelled up and down the east wall of 510 West 22nd Street, once a parking garage owned by Time Warner Cable and, for the past year, temporary home to the magisterial artwork Broken Bridge II by West African artist El Anatsui. Of all the many superb […]

Share
Read the full article →

Vincent Scully & The High Line

Earlier this week Joshua David and Robert Hammond, co-founders of Friends of the High Line, received the prestigious Vincent Scully Prize. Awarded by the National Building Museum in Washington, it was created to recognize extraordinary practice, scholarship or criticism in architecture, historic preservation and urban design. The namesake of the award and its first recipient […]

Share
Read the full article →

High Line Architecture: Global Warehouse To “World School”

  The second building in my new series about architecture along the High Line is the former R.C. Williams warehouse, now Avenues School, on Tenth Avenue between 25th – 26th Streets. [Click here to read the first piece in the series, about the Westyard Distribution Center, and here for the “What’s the Building?” feature] Just […]

Share
Read the full article →

High Line Architecture: Westyard Distribution Center

As part of my ongoing lectures and talks about the High Line I’ve been digging deeper into the history of many distinctive buildings near the old viaduct-turned-park. “What’s That Building?”— a guide to architecture in the High Line’s viewscape —  is a popular feature on this blog, and today I’m launching a new series of […]

Share
Read the full article →

Magical Magicada: The 17-Year Cicada Has Landed

Updated 9 June, 2013 On June 1, sometime in the early morning, the cicadas arrived in southern Columbia County. Slowly they have made their way up the eastern seaboard, and day by day I’ve been hearing reports of their noisy arrival from friends to the south. On Friday May 31, my brother-in-law got his first […]

Share
Read the full article →

Preparing for Cicadas

Seventeen years ago we were spending weekends in a small 19th century converted saltbox in Germantown, New York, that had once been home to the local school teacher. It was also her classroom. I bought the house in 1985 from an Episcopalian minister who was partly deaf but swore he could still hear the voices […]

Share
Read the full article →

Painters in the Sky

An amazing creative act is taking place right now on the High Line. If ever there was a reason to leave your desk and head out to the park, this is it. But go now, because it’ll be over soon. Painters from a company called Colossal Media are working on a scaffold at 20th Street […]

Share
Read the full article →

A Tale of Two Gardens

NOTE: a version of this article first appeared on the blog of the American Library of Paris on 26 March, 2013. I’m headed to Paris this week to give a talk at the American Library about the High Line. As my plane takes off, an important rite of spring will be ending in New York’s […]

Share
Read the full article →

History in the Shadows

Who doesn’t love a New York City water tank? This iconic rooftop emblem is famous around the world, a standard bearer for our skyline. Recently — and from the High Line, my favorite observation deck — I’ve discovered a new way to appreciate these “silent sentries,” as the filmmaker Jane Martin calls them: in reflection. […]

Share
Read the full article →

A Poem for Valentine’s Day on the High Line

Today, Valentine’s Day, a poem from my Dad, as he typed it and then signed it, as a Valentine’s Day card for me many years ago. He would have loved the High Line, and I’m sorry he never got to see it. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Click here to read more of W.E.R.’s poetry. And […]

Share
Read the full article →

The High Line: Past, Present and Future

Here’s a picture that’s worth a thousand words: the High Line past (rusty old viaduct); present (restored railing with its modern light fixture on top); and future (one set of pipe-rails painted and signs of construction all around).  The northern end of the park is a flurry of activity, both on the High Line and […]

Share
Read the full article →

A River Runs Through It

When I was researching my High Line book I came across an autobiography published in 1864 by a professor at General Theological Seminary, Rev. Samuel H. Turner. In his book Dr. Turner recalls the days when there was a hill and an apple orchard behind the Seminary, and 21st Street was known as Love Lane. […]

Share
Read the full article →

The Feisty Tenement

A couple of weeks ago my cousin Antoinette and I took a walk along the High Line. When we arrived at the construction scaffolding that now overstretches the park at 30th Street, I pulled out my phone and showed her the photograph above, which I had taken almost exactly a month earlier from the roof […]

Share
Read the full article →

Rooftop Artists

“So atop the city that taught the world what modern cities ought to be, there they are, the hoops and staves of the Middle Ages.” — Charles Kuralt This blog is no danger of becoming LivinTheWaterTower.com, Scout’s honor, but I’ve had such an interesting response to recent pieces about New York’s water towers that I […]

Share
Read the full article →

Walking the High Line

Something to remind you. Note: this video was posted after the High Line was closed because of Hurricane Sandy. Video by Matt Baron. Original music by Rafael Cortés. Edited by Eric Paesel. Created for the ON THE HIGH LINE app for iPhone/iPad by Soma Rishi LLC.

Share
Read the full article →

Magical Water Towers

Water towers are as much a part of the New York City landscape as skyscrapers, and many people find as much art in the rooftop “hoops and staves of the Middle Ages” as they do in the city’s modern architecture. That’s a quote from Charles Kuralt, the great CBS newsman, who also loved the city’s […]

Share
Read the full article →

New Kid on the Avenue

Today is the first day of classes at Avenues, the new “world school” whose campus is located in a stately former warehouse on Tenth Avenue between 25th & 26th Streets. Over the next few years the school, a for-profit venture conceived by Benno Schmidt (former head of Yale University) and Christopher Whittle (founder of the […]

Share
Read the full article →

The Art of the Water Tower

Readers of this blog know that I love New York’s water towers. One of the most-read posts in the archive is a piece about Charles Kuralt, the great CBS newsman who also adored the “hoops and staves of the Middle Ages” that define our city skyline. Next spring a new public art project will pay […]

Share
Read the full article →

Jeremiah Moss and the Misplaced Gerund

For years I’ve followed Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, the blog that takes “a bitterly nostalgic look at a city in the process of going extinct,” with admiration and interest. I’ve linked to it from this blog (and still do) along with various other sites that cover New York from a unique perspective. As a lifelong […]

Share
Read the full article →

The West Side Cowboy & The High Line: A Birthday Tribute

On June 8 the High Line turned three years old, and in celebration I’ve put together a special tribute to the “West Side Cowboy” that includes rare video footage shot in the 1930s. The tribute page and video are here. The High Line is a place of countless stories from New York’s past (I’ve just […]

Share
Read the full article →

Professor of Place

Paul VanMeter, co-founder of VIADUCTgreene in Philadelphia, has written, with Leah Murphy, a fascinating article on “Placemaking” in the online journal Philadelphia Social Innovations.  It begins: “Great, vital Places — capitalization intended — are imperative for cultivating creative and cultural life,” and goes on to explore what gives a building — or a former battlefield, […]

Share
Read the full article →

Message From Bangladesh: Leave Sarah Sze’s Scultpure on the High Line

Last week I received an email from a high school student in Bangladesh named Tinni Bhattacharyya. There, nearly 8,000 miles from 21st Street on Manhattan island, she has launched a campaign to make Sarah Sze’s sculpture “Landscape With Still Life” a permanent fixture on the High Line. Tinni created a Facebook page for the campaign, […]

Share
Read the full article →

Detroit’s Urban Greenway

In May 2009, just a few weeks before the High Line was completed, the Dequindre Cut Greenway opened in Detroit. Joggers, promenaders, cyclists, kids in carriages, rollerbladers — just about anyone who wanted to enjoy the outdoors — suddenly had a new open space to wander and frolic. There are many similarities to the High […]

Share
Read the full article →

Shadowcaster

NOTE: this posted has been updated The billboard on 18th Street has probably been empty before, but I’ve never seen it, and certainly not as it is now, starkly black. It’s really quite striking: it shows an absence of advertising, which makes you consider what life might be like if we weren’t bombarded at every […]

Share
Read the full article →

The Choreography of the Cutback

Over the years there have been zillions of articles about the High Line Spring Cutback (including several on this blog), but until today I didn’t have a clue what a complex and coordinated operation the whole thing is. This morning I had the great privilege of watching and participating in Act II of the Cutback: […]

Share
Read the full article →

The Falcon and the DEA Man

If you’re a regular High Line visitor you know the magnificent peregrine falcon who has taken up residence at the Drug Enforcement Agency building on 17th Street. I’ve been photographing this bird for more than a year, and a few months ago saw him perched with his mate.  Occasionally he cries out in piercing bursts, […]

Share
Read the full article →

Introducing Urban Greenways

All over the country – and indeed the world – the impact of the High Line is being felt.  Every week, it seems, brings a new story of someone who’s dreaming of a park made from  an old railway, and in many places those dreams are becoming reality. This Fall I made two trips to […]

Share
Read the full article →

The Dogs of the High Line, Including Photos!

I took this photo a couple of weeks ago, but the weather was similar to today’s: rainy, raw, bone-chilling. There weren’t too many creatures in the park. A great many people come to this blog looking for dogs on the High Line, and I’m always happy to oblige. Dogs are not, of course, allowed on […]

Share
Read the full article →

Nine Reasons to Read HIGH LINE

There are as many reasons to admire this book as there are entries to the High Line. So I’ll give you nine. 1. It’s inspirational: a true David and Goliath story, set in post 9/11 New York City, featuring two guys who admit quite charmingly in these pages that they had no idea what they […]

Share
Read the full article →

The Crickets of the High Line

If you’re having trouble re-engaging with work this first week after Labor Day, I encourage you to take a walk through the Chelsea Thicket, one of my favorite sections of the High Line. I’m sure there’s a scientific reason for why a billion crickets have taken up residence in this particular patch of Manhattan, but […]

Share
Read the full article →

Seeing Ourselves in Robert Adams’ Nebraska State Highway

I love the (relatively) new billboard on the High Line, which is part of the park’s great public art program. Joel Sternfeld selected Robert Adams’ black & white photograph of a highway in Nebraska, titled “Nebraska State Highway 2, Butte County” and it will remain on the billboard over the giant parking lot on 18th […]

Share
Read the full article →

The Sternfeld Sky

  There was a beautiful, Sternfeldian sky above Manhattan this afternoon, and even though I had work to do I grabbed my camera and hit the High Line. There I found the striking Robert Adams billboard that just went up yesterday, which is part of a new outdoor photography exhibit that Joel Sternfeld is curating. […]

Share
Read the full article →

Manhattan Microclimate

A few months ago I took a tour with one of the High Line’s gardeners and when we got to 14th Street — the widest part of both the park and Manhattan — she noted how windy it was. And how much cooler. The High Line, sitting as it does about 30 feet above sea […]

Share
Read the full article →

The Quiet Park

I have left town for a week — my first vacation of the year, and much-needed — and find myself in my own garden pulling weeds. It’s very quiet here on a small mountain along the Hudson River in Columbia County. Frequently a train goes by and toots its horn. If it’s a big one […]

Share
Read the full article →

The Shy Birds of High Line

A quite wonderful thing is happening on the High Line in section two: the birds are really flocking to Sarah Sze’s sculpture. But they’re shy, at least during the daytime when thousands of people are passing by, sticking camera lenses into their little wooden houses and offering good, old-fashioned New York City food critiques of […]

Share
Read the full article →

Secret Dogs on the High Line

It’s every dog’s dream to visit the High Line. Some people — and I love this about New York — are just undeterred. My dog Bucky weighs 55 pounds so there’s no way I’m going to stuff him underneath my suit jacket for an afternoon of flâneur. But these bold High Line visitors were not […]

Share
Read the full article →

Dreaming of the Days of the Great Ocean Liners

Eighty-four years ago, on June 29, 1927, the Ile de France sailed into New York Harbor on her maiden voyage. Famous for being the most beautiful ocean liner of the day, the Art Deco inspired ship had a dining room that was decorated in marble and gold and featured a chrome fountain in the center. […]

Share
Read the full article →

The Birds Are Coming to Sarah Sze’s Exhibit in Section Two

Readers of this blog know that I have been mourning the impending loss of Stephen Vitiello’s “A Bell For Every Minute” exhibit, which comes down on June 20th.  But you can be consoled by a very cool exhibit in the new section of the park — at around 21st Street — by the artist Sarah Sze. […]

Share
Read the full article →

Stephen Vitiello’s Bells From the Hudson River

Today is the first day of the Atlantic hurricane season, and this afternoon New York City was under a tornado watch. This made me think about a story I read about the Frying Pan lightship that’s docked at Pier 66a just a few blocks from my home and in view (I think, but won’t know […]

Share
Read the full article →

Naughty But Cool: Jazz Band on the High Line

This jazz quintet scurried into the garden this morning for a quick photo opp. Maybe they can only read music and therefore the 8 million signs that prohibit walking amongst the plantings eluded them. Anyway, they got their photo and seconds later it began to rain on their instruments so they scurried out again, without […]

Share
Read the full article →

It’s a marvelous day for a bird bath

Tonight is the big bash that Friends of the High Line is hosting to celebrate next month’s the opening of Section Two. For the past hour or so ladies and gentlemen in black tie have been parading past our little patch on 22nd – 23rd street. Ho hum. More interesting: even the birds decided to […]

Share
Read the full article →

It Tolls For Thee…

  Sad news that Stephen Vitiello’s marvelous exhibit, “A Bell For Every Minute,” will close later this Spring. The folks who run the High Line have a robust program of art exhibits and they’ve created a one-year rule for themselves to keep the programs fresh and new. That makes (some) sense, but it’ll be hard […]

Share
Read the full article →

To see a World in a blade of grass…

(With apologies to William Blake….) As the opening of the second section of the High Line draws near I offer a tiny, easy-to-miss piece of nostalgia for hard-core lovers of this “meadow in the sky.” The single blade of grass you see in the photo above grows at the southern-most portion of the original High […]

Share
Read the full article →

The River That Flows Both Ways

The art exhibit by Spencer Finch, “The River That Flows Both Ways,” is one of my favorite parts of the High Line and today I discovered something I hadn’t noticed before. Again, I thank the camera, which caught something my eyes didn’t see on their own: the reflection of the building just opposite the colored […]

Share
Read the full article →

What “Keeping it Wild” Really Means

Here’s something new I learned today about the High Line: they don’t use commercial salt products to melt ice on the pavements. It’s easy to understand why: the surface of the park is carefully crafted from stone, cement, asphalt, wood and steel: all surfaces that would quickly degrade in the presence of chemicals, to say […]

Share
Read the full article →

Farewell Pier D

Driving down the West Side Highway last Sunday we met with a sad surprise as we approached 64th Street: Pier D was in the process of being dismantled. It was an icy day and several boats and a large crane were at work taking apart the old wreck. The Times ran a story with a […]

Share
Read the full article →

What the Camera Lets us See

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the act of taking a picture — I don’t want to call it “photography” since what I’m doing is so much below the standard of art and more a gesture of observation and record-keeping — can engage a person with a subject. This has been on my […]

Share
Read the full article →

An Homage to Charles Kuralt and New York’s Water Towers

The long weeks with no (apparent) progress on my section of the High Line have caused my eye to wander, and lately I’ve been admiring the majestic water towers on the roof of the London Terrace Towers apartments across the street from my apartment. (That’s 23rd Street, just off 10th Avenue.) I’m reminded of how […]

Share
Read the full article →

In Praise of Urban Architects & Designers

Watching and studying a great public space in progress has made me think a lot about the decisions that designers and architects make as they create the places that we will all inhabit and enjoy. Every weekend I drive down the West Side Highway on my way home from upstate, and it’s hard not to […]

Share
Read the full article →

The Unfinished Nature of Life

Walking on the High Line today I discovered that there’s still an unfinished section in the part of the park that’s open to the public. I shot a paver from that section (it’s at around 16th Street) back in mid-September, and there it was, five months later, still unfinished. There’s also a wonderful contraption called a […]

Share
Read the full article →

The Incomparable Johnny

There are thousands of plants on the High Line. No one can know for sure the actual number, but every year an army of volunteers joins the park’s gardening staff for the annual March Cutback, and in our training we’re told that in the course of five or six weeks we’ll cut back 100,000 plants. […]

Share
Read the full article →