Into the Wild

by Annik on September 26, 2014

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.]

The High Line at the Rail Yards

The High Line at the Rail Yards

Every landscape tells a story, whether its urban, rural, or wilderness, and much of what I’ve been doing on this blog for the past five years is peel back the layers of this particular place to discover the many threads in a rich, ongoing narrative about the Far West Side of our little island. What makes a visit to the final section of the High Line so exciting is that its creators have taken the old story of the abandoned railroad and married it so seamlessly and artfully with the new story of the High Line Park.

A simple change in paving material and a gate that closes at dusk signals the transition between a “wild,” self-seeded garden and a modern park that galvanized an international movement devoted to the adaptive reuse of post-industrial places, powered by new ideas rooted in the concept of greenness and sustainability. The fact that the official opening of the High Line at the Rail Yards coincided with the People’s Climate March made the experience of being here all the more powerful. One could justifiably feel, standing in the “park in the sky” at the spot where the March ended and participants began streaming in, that you were, for just that one fleeting little moment, in the most hopeful place in the world.

It makes it all the more appropriate that a visitor’s first footsteps in the High Line at the Rail Yards pass over a little knuckle in the pavement known as “The Crossroads.” Some day in the future, when the massive Hudson Yards neighborhood is complete, The Crossroads will be the only spot in the park where you could walk in any direction of the compass. But for now, visitors are irresistibly pulled west toward the Hudson River, into a newly designed section that’s remarkable for its sense of openness and natural light.

"Make it sittable." -- William H. Whyte

Make the place sittable, William H. Whyte said

If William “Holly” Whyte were still alive he would be smiling, because in this new area the architects have conceived a whole new vocabulary for the humble act of sitting and hanging out in the city. There’s a “peel-up” bench that see-saws (and gives your calf muscles quite a workout in the process…); love seats that allow couples to engage in conversation while facing each other; a bench that doubles as a xylophone; and long tables where you can quietly work at your laptop, do some urban sketching, or enjoy a picnic with a friend.

Which gets to one of the most striking differences between the newly designed section of the Rail Yards and the rest of the park: there are lots of things to do here. Many visitors love the High Line because it was designed for promenading or just sitting quietly and watching the world go by. In the warmer months you can get a bite to eat, but essentially that’s it. It’s the Slow Park, and that’s always been part of its charm. The Rail Yards is without doubt the most beautiful part of the park, with its expansive Hudson River views and wide, sunlit plazas, and it is indeed a spectacular place for promenading and observing. But there is also much to do here, especially if you’re a kid.

A refurbished signal switch is just above the MTA's working rail yard

A refurbished signal switch is just above the MTA’s working rail yard

The Pershing Square Beams: Just for Kids

Kids now have a place of their own on the High Line, and it’s one of the few spots in New York City where adults are not allowed unless accompanied by a child. This area was created by removing a section of the original steel beams, then covering the remaining ones with a thick layer of silicone. The result is a cool space filled with nooks and crannies for investigation and romping. A periscope offer’s a kids’ eye view of the Rail Yards, and a special tube between beams allows them to have private but amplified conversations across a distance. On opening day I overheard one little boy bellow into the tube: “I love you, mommy.”

One of my young friends leaps in The Beams

One of my young friends leaps in The Beams

Best of all, The Beams allows kids to get right inside the structure of the viaduct itself and see how the whole thing was put together. The engineering seems to intrigue them; one day this week a little girl interrupted her game of leaping from beam-to-beam to exclaim to her mother: “Look, those are rivets!”

Walk the Rails, Watch the Trains

Ever since the High Line opened people have been yearning to walk on the rails. It’s one of the most natural things in the world, like whistling or humming while you work, but it’s not allowed in the park because the tracks cut through garden beds that would be damaged by heavy foot traffic. In the new section, the designers created three “Rail Walks” so visitors can stroll between the tracks or hop on a rail and walk along it. As you move along, balancing on the rails, you can gaze down at real trains as they enter and depart a working rail yard:  the commuter trains of the Long Island Railroad. Having dropped their passengers off at Penn Station a few blocks east, they proceed to the Rail Yards where they park until it’s time to make the return trip.

The Rail Walk

The Rail Walk

See the Past and Future at Once

But what takes your breath away in the new High Line at the Rail Yards is the “wild” section. What makes this such a powerful place is the fact that it has been left alone. I think this section, which wraps around the Western Rail Yards, is one of the most beautiful, inspiring places in all of New York City. An “interim walkway” now cuts through the plants, grasses and trees that spontaneously grew here after the trains stopped running in 1980. The temporary path was born of financial exigency – it was the quickest way open up the entire Rail Yards section, even though funds only existed to formally design part of it – but it offers an experience that is truly priceless. Here is a central part of the High Line’s narrative, an introduction to the real, wild garden that inspired the planting and design scheme throughout the entire park. Everywhere else on the High Line the tracks were taken out for remediation of the rail bed, including the removal of asbestos and lead paint, then replaced along with new plants that came from a nearby nursery. Here, the tracks remain in exactly the same place they were when the trains rumbled along them, surrounded by shrubs and perennials that have grown here, unseen, for decades. All around are breathtaking views: of the busy Hudson River to the west and vast, open stretches of Manhattan to the north, east and south.

In the middle of the wild section is a seating area made of long, wide timbers stacked on top of each other. The genius of this arrangement is that you can turn your back on the city and gaze out at the boat traffic and constantly shifting light along the Hudson River.

East/West facing seating steps

East/West facing seating steps

Or, you can turn your back on the river and watch a whole new city rising around the Hudson Yards, a neighborhood-in-progress that will, when it’s completed some twenty years hence, be twice the size of Rockefeller Center. If you’d like to watch a civilization in the constant act of reinventing itself, there’s no better place than here. All around you are the markers of time: shiny new buildings of the future, crisscrossed by construction cranes and men in hard hats; commuter trains keeping to their schedules, coming and going around the clock; rusty tracks from the old freight railroad, now overgrown with native and exotic plants; children of all ages playing and engaging with the place.

Pete Seeger's sloop Clearwater passes between the Rail Yards and the first section of the Palisades during the People's Climate March

Pete Seeger’s sloop Clearwater passes between the High Line at the Rail Yards and the first section of the Palisades during the People’s Climate March

Time is in the landscape too, beginning with the Hudson River, carved in the last Ice Age some 20,000 years ago and used by us for the past four hundred or so as a primary force of American life, culture, commerce and art. Never content to let the river be, we’ve exerted our force on it in countless ways, and a good place to consider that is on the High Line’s new “Catwalk,” a raised path that crosses 11th Avenue. According to the Welikia Project, which collected massive troves of data on the ecology and topography of Manhattan Island before the Europeans arrived, in 1609 the Hudson River flowed just below today’s Western Rail Yards. (Marty Schnure of Maps for Good used the Welikia-Mannahatta data to create a special map for On the High Line that shows the original 1609 shoreline in relation to the entire park. Click the image of the map below to enlarge it and see the detail.)

The 1609 shoreline and the High Line. Map by Marty Schnure, created for On the High Line

The 1609 shoreline and the High Line. Map by Marty Schnure, created for On the High Line

Centuries of landfill later, we have the the High Line, Chelsea Piers, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, the West Side Highway, and dozens of old warehouses that are home to art galleries, tech, design and media firms — including the architects of the High Line itself, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who work in a large studio space in the Starrett-Lehigh Building.

But a look across the river takes us much, much further back in time. On the western bank of the Hudson, just across from the Rail Yards,  you can see the first segment of the Palisades, created at the end of the Triassic Period some 200 million years ago. It’s a place where ancient geology meets classic human folly:  in July 1804, Alexander Hamilton, former Secretary of the Treasury, was shot and killed here by Aaron Burr, then the Vice President of the United States. In fact, this craggy spot in the town of Weehawken was a popular dueling ground; DeWitt Clinton fought a duel here in 1802 and Oliver Hazard Perry fought one in 1818. Today, a railroad runs through it.

Hudson River, Palisades Cliffs, Weekhawken dueling grounds

Hudson River, Palisades Cliffs, Weekhawken dueling grounds

The new section of the High Line offers these and countless other points of contemplation. It’s a gift of extraordinary, timeless value. Every time you visit you will see something new against something old; it’s the ancient dance we do in New York, and there is no more beautiful, inspiring, place to bear witness to it.

The High Line at the Rail Yards, dusk on opening day

The High Line at the Rail Yards, dusk on opening day

The High Line at the Rail Yards, opened September 20, 2014
Plant design: Piet Oudolf
Landscape Architects: James Corner Field Operations
Architects: Diller Scofidio + Renfro
Lighting: L’Observatoire International
More information at TheHighLine.org

 

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The Crossroads at the High Line

by Annik on September 19, 2014

The Crossroads at the High Line at the Rail Yards

The Crossroad at the High Line at the Rail Yards

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 only spot in the park where you could go in any direction of the compass. Visitors this weekend will enter from the south, and if they like can walk a bit to the east (under the construction shed). When the final piece of the High Line is completed in 2016, this eastern path will cut through a high tunnel in the new Coach headquarters across the Tenth Avenue Spur, into a new area of the park that’s still being designed. You will also be able, sometime in the future, to walk north, up those few steps and into a whole new park in the Hudson Yards.

But tomorrow, everyone will walk west into the new High Line at the Rail Yards. As the gorgeous, heart-stopping views of Hudson River draw you westward, don’t forget to look down and observe that Crossroads. It took a long, long time to get here, and it’s still pointing to the future.

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

Tim Saternow, Furniture Exchange Warehouse, 525 West 22nd Street, 1940 (Spears Building), 2010 Watercolor on paper, 60×40”

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 as a cigarette packing factory. Kinney was a unit of the giant American Tobacco Company, and until it was broken up by antitrust laws it controlled more than 90% of the tobacco market in the USA. Kinney had a large operation on 22nd Street, capable of putting out 18,000,000 cigarettes each week. 600 people worked in the factory, which consisted of several other buildings on the block.

In 1892 a five-alarm fire gutted the entire factory, destroying 40 million cigarettes. Thankfully the fire started early in the morning and no one was injured, but the damage was extensive.  This sad event prompted one of my all-time favorite New York Times headlines, which ran on October 7, 1892: “One Fiend Beats Another: Fire Smokes Forty Million Cigarettes in Short Order.” Imagine that: the smoke from 40 million cigarettes burning just above today’s lawn….

By the time Robert Moses was envisioning the High Line in the 1920s, the warehouse had been taken over by Spear & Co., and instead of cigarettes it was filled with furniture.  In 1931 a section of the complex was torn down to accommodate the elevated railroad. Tim Saternow’s marvelous painting (above) captures the street scene of the 1940s, including the old street lamps and iconic water towers that still sit atop the building.

Like the R.C. Williams wholesale grocer a few blocks to the north, Spear installed loading docks along the side of its warehouse so trains could expeditiously load furniture onto box cars for distribution around the country. Spear & Co.’s headquarters were in Pittsburgh and they operated several retail stores in Manhattan, including on 34th Street and in East Harlem. Looking at Saternow’s painting, it’s not hard to imagine how the whole scenario played out:  a train chuffs down the High Line, carrying tables, chairs and other items from Pittsburgh; it veers off on the Spear & Co. spur, and workers shunt the furniture through the east wall of the warehouse. Later, men move the goods to the street-level loading dock where they are placed on a panel truck and sent uptown to the fancy stores where New Yorkers go to furnish their apartments. (In an odd coincidence, the general manager of Spear & Co., Arthur S. Guggenheim, died on a train en route from his home in Pittsburgh to Penn Station; it was the same year that Tim Saternow’s painting depicts: 1940.)

The photo below was taken in 1934  from the newly opened freight viaduct, looking north from 21st Street. It shows the Spear & Co. warehouse on the left, and also the Guardian Angel School (right foreground) which was originally located on 23rd Street. The New York Central Railroad paid the church to move to its current location, since it blocked the path of the viaduct — a reminder of the fact that this neighborhood has always been a work-in-progress.

Spear & Company furniture warehouse, from the High Line, 1934. Courtesy West Side Improvement Project brochure

Spear & Company furniture warehouse, from the High Line at 21st Street, 1934. Courtesy West Side Improvement Project brochure

After the last train ran along the High Line in 1980 the viaduct was abandoned, and over time transformed into an invisible (at least from the street) spontaneous garden. Rick Darke’s photo (below) shows an intriguing little path made by trespassers — precursor to the more popular one that would replace it a decade or so later — plus a few birds sitting like notes on a musical staff, looking down on the peaceful wild garden in the middle of the city. (Click here to get an idea of what Brazilian musician Jarbas Agnelli might do with those birds…)

The Spears Building, looking north from 20th Street. Photo by Rick Darke.

The Spears Building, looking north from 20th Street. Photo by Rick Darke.

The photo below shows the abandoned loading dock along with the multitude of graffiti that once covered the building. The NYC graffiti police removed most of the graffiti from the High Line during remediation, but on the Spears Building they left the famous REVS COST tag along with faded remnants of a few others. Running down the southeast corner of the building, you can also see the faded letters that spell out the name of Tower’s Warehouses, Inc. (which also appears in much larger letters on wall above the High Line), the apparent successor to Spear & Co. Tower operated bonded warehouses in locations throughout the city, including along the west side of Manhattan, and according to one source operated a warehouse in the 511 W. 22nd Street building (once part of Spear’s factory) between 1955 – 1971. These ghost signs are common around West Chelsea — a bit west, at 532 W. 22nd, are the faded letters of a long-gone lumber company — but as development rampages through the neighborhood they are disappearing fast.

Spear & Co. loading dock on the abandoned High Line. Photo by Tim Saternow

Spear & Co. loading dock on the abandoned High Line. Photo by Tim Saternow

The Spear & Co. factory was converted into a condominium in 1996, and while many units renovated away the details of the building’s industrial past, some of the lofts retain the original wooden plank ceilings, iron castings, and support beams that recall the old factory. Long ago, some worker hammered a series of nails into a pattern displaying the initials “F.A.,” which are now part of a loft on the 5th floor. Some ghosts still remain inside, too.

In 2012, when Section Two of the High Line opened, the Spears Building became the backdrop for the “seating steps,” a popular hang-out place for people-watching, snacking, smooching, and the occasional wedding ceremony. The High Line Art program uses the wall of the building just opposite the seats to project films or display art works, like Ed Ruscha’s mural, which is there now. So this place has also become an outdoor auditorium/art gallery.

Spears Building and High Line lawn

Spears Building and High Line lawn

Almost exactly 120 years after the devastating fire of October 1892, the Spears Building was hit by another fiend: Hurricane Sandy. The “superstorm” ravaged New York City On October 29 during a full moon, when tides are at their highest. Worse, the storm surged coincided with the approaching high tide along the Atlantic Coast. The Hudson River, a tidal estuary, rose a record 8 to 9 feet in Lower New York Bay, and on 22nd Street the river exceeded the 4′ level, flooding the basement and lobby of the Spears Building. The photo below was taken by Haider Gillani during the storm; click here to see a photo from the same place taken in July 2014 and here to see the Sandy high water mark emblazoned (still) on 22nd Street.

22nd Street, just outside the front door of the Spears Bldg., during Hurricane Sandy. Photographer unknown.

22nd Street, outside the front door of the Spears Bldg., during Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Haider Gillani.

Tim Saternow’s painting, which he graciously allowed me to use here, has been hanging in the Spears lobby since 2009 — the same year the High Line opened — and for most of the building’s residents (myself included) is a much-loved fixture.  It was almost a casualty of the hurricane,  but luckily the water didn’t rise quite high enough to reach it. Tim was able to rescue the painting the day after the storm, and once the lobby had been repaired it was returned to its rightful place, to the joy of everyone.

The other distinctive element of the Spears Building is the pair of “silent sentries” that have stood on its roof for more than a century. New York City is filled with water tanks, what Charles Kuralt – one of their many admirers — described as “the hoops and staves of the Middle Ages.” As our neighborhood reinvents itself with modern architecture and 21st century urban greenways made from post-industrial ruins, the water towers on the old cigarette-packing-factory-turned-furniture-warehouse-turned-condominium are like anchors of the past. They help us better appreciate the long — and ongoing narrative — of this wonderful place.

Spears Building water tank, February 2, 2014

Spears Building water tank, February 2, 2014

Spears Building water tank, February 4, 2014

Spears Building water tank, February 4, 2014

Spears Building water tank, March 27, 2014

Spears Building water tank, March 27, 2014

Spears Building water tank, November 18, 2011

Spears Building water tank, November 11, 2011

Spears Building water tank, December 2, 2013

Spears Building water tank, December 2, 2013

Note: special thanks to Livin’ The High Line reader Bruce Ryan, for his feedback and insights.

HIGH LINE ARCHITECTURE SERIES

Morgan General Mail Facility – Tenth Avenue between 28th – 30th Streets

Westyard Distribution Center – Tenth Avenue between 31st – 33rd Streets

R.C. Williams Warehouse / Avenues School – Tenth Avenue between 25th – 26th Streets

Spears Building - 525 West 22nd Street

 

 

 

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Ancient Footfalls Beneath the High Line

by Annik on May 22, 2014

Manhattan Island's 1609 shoreline, with the Lenape trail passing under today's High Line

Manhattan Island’s 1609 shoreline, with the Lenape trail passing under today’s 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 Woodland in the High Line park. (Click the image to enlarge it.)

Four hundred years ago, before the first Europeans arrived, this area was a prime hunting and fishing grounds for the Lenape people. From the estuary of the Hudson River they pulled 12″ oysters, 6′ lobsters and more than 70 species of fish. On land they hunted countless species of mammals including deer and bear.

In those days, the river was a bit closer to today’s park. We’ve been expanding the borders of our island for centuries; Marty’s map shows the original 1609 shoreline, which the High Line roughly follows. Intriguingly, the line bisects the Western Rail Yards at exactly the point where the temporary path in section three of the park will begin once it opens in the Fall. This path will lead visitors through the still-wild landscape that emerged after the rail line was abandoned, and toward a glorious view of the river — all of which takes place on modern landfill.

The second edition went on-sale this week, and continues to peel back the layers of landscape around the High Line, offering historical and cultural context for readers interested in the story of this fascinating place. [click to continue…]

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Farewell, Paul VanMeter

by Annik on February 10, 2014

Paul VanMeter, September 2012, on the Reading Viaduct

Paul VanMeter, September 2012, on the Reading Viaduct

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 his iPad to show a photograph of the very same spot where we stood, a century ago. Swiping the glass screen he conjured image after image: the giant Baldwin Locomotive Works, old bicycle and balloon factories, and a sprawling machine works that once made the stuff that fired Paul’s railroad dreams: steam hammers, hydraulic parts, boiler makers’ tools. [click to continue…]

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Welcome to the Time Machine

by Annik on February 5, 2014

General Theological Seminary

General Theological Seminary

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 — trunks, branches, twigs — it had a wonderful effect of erasure: you could barely see the buildings or skyline through the thick lines of white that crisscrossed every view from the street. And unlike our many previous storms, this stuff stayed white much longer than the typical New York City snowfall. In a hellacious winter, this was our magical moment.

GTS_DSC07513

[As always, click to enlarge an image.]

Walking past General Theological Seminary on Monday night you could almost imagine it was the 1820s. In a flicker of gaslight, perhaps that dark figure who just brushed past you was Clement Clark Moore himself, father of Chelsea who long ago donated his apple field to the Episcopal Church.

I crossed over Tenth Avenue — the Hudson River’s eastern edge in Moore’s day, now a slushy artery built on landfill — and up above me appeared a winter forest. Somewhere along that elevated expanse a High Line Ranger was gingerly walking along the path, making his final rounds to close up the park. [click to continue…]

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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, […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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, […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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. […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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. […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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.

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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, […]

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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, […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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: […]

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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, […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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. […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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. […]

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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. […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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. […]

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Meatpackers, Your Steak Dinner & the High Line

When I was a kid, back in the days when freight trains ran along the High Line, we used to trek to Brooklyn for very special occasions: a big steak at Peter Lugar’s. Until this morning, when I happened to pass by a van loading up sides of beef at the J. T. Jobaggy meatpacking […]

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Dreaming in Philadelphia

Over the past few days I’ve been taking booksellers in town for Book Expo America on walking tours of the High Line. As part of my preamble, I always find myself talking about High Line: The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky, the 2011 book by Friends of the High Line […]

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The grass is always greener….

The sound of a lawn mower on 22nd Street always jolts me to attention. Of course, the mower has to compete with the unending cacophony of construction, but the smell of freshly cut grass does waft up and shimmy through the open windows, so if even if you can’t hear it, you know the High […]

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Every Week is Bird Week on the High Line

It’s Bird Week, and the High Line is an excellent place to observe our avian friends, those who live here permanently as well as the thousands more who pass through en route to someplace else. The High Line parallels the Hudson River, one of this country’s great migration superhighways, and when the Rail Yards section […]

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Putin and the High Line

One doesn’t naturally associate Vladimir Putin with the High Line, but once upon a time he was a stakeholder here. Back in 2000 Lukoil, the giant Russian oil conglomerate, purchased Getty Oil and its 1,300 gas stations, including a small one on 24th Street and Tenth Avenue. Putin himself attended the grand opening, and it […]

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