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Composting at 30′

The composting operation on the High Line

Five years ago I tagged along with a High Line gardener on what was then a weekly trip to Staten Island, where the fruits of our Cutback labor were dumped on a giant composting pile in the Fresh Kills landfill. Fresh Kills is a stunningly beautiful place, but the long, bumper-to-bumper, carbon-emitting drive in a panel truck packed with 35-cubic-yard compost bags was not exactly a sustainable operation.  The article I published in 2012 was called “The Choreography of the Cutback.”

Wow, have things changed. Today, Friends of the High Line’s horticultural staff remains on Manhattan island and has created an innovative, state-of-the art composting operation in a small but wonderfully efficient area just above the busy traffic of Tenth Avenue. It’s located on a Spur that once served the New York Central Railroad and the National Biscuit Company, also known as Nabisco. Back in the day, boxcars filled with eggs, milk and butter from the American heartland trundled across this Spur and all those raw ingredients made their way into giant ovens that later cranked out Mallomars, Fig Newtons and Animal Crackers. Today, the Spur is home to a fully sustainable composting operation that runs throughout the year, but just under half its output — between 180 – 220 cubic yards — is generated in March, during the annual Spring Cutback. It’s the horticultural circle of life in action, and I had the great pleasure of witnessing the new era of composting on the High Line just five days after participating in the first Cutback shift of 2017.

This is the story of how the High Line’s plants and grasses go from the volunteer’s trug to a beautiful, aromatic compost, ready to return to the garden and nurture the next generation of growth.

The giant compost bags filled with clippings — as many as 20 from each Cutback shift — are delivered to the Southern Spur on dollies. The first step is a trip through the chipper, a surprisingly small machine that churns the dead plant matter into fluffy pile.

There’s nothing the matter with my lens; the fog is plant dust….

Step Two involves one of life’s greatest pleasures: coffee. Andi Pettis, Director of Horticulture for Friends of the High Line, explains that for high-quality compost you have to begin with the right ratio of carbon-rich (dry) material to nitrogen-rich (wet) material. Most of the dry, plant biomass that’s produced during Cutback is very high in carbon, so it has to be balanced with something rich in nitrogen. Coffee grounds are the perfect ingredient, and luckily there’s an almost endless source just across the street from the High Line.

Say you are one of the thousands of people who stopped for an espresso at The High Line Hotel’s Intelligentsia cafe between 20th – 21st Streets, in the western part of the historic General Theological Seminary. The grounds from the beans used to create your cup of Joe have now made it across Tenth Avenue to the Spur, where they are dropped and raked into the fluffy pile. A handful of stray beans also makes its way into the mix, and as he rakes one of the gardeners observes that all this coffee, with its multinational origins, brings its own flavor of diversity to the High Line via the compost. This is because Intelligentsia sources its beans from family-owned farms, smallholder co-ops and estates from all over the world: Rwanda, Ethiopia, Columbia, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Burundi, Honduras.

The company has been around for 21 years and was a pioneer of the direct trade model with its emphasis on sustainable social, environmental and economic practices. But all that happens on the producing end, and this past year Intelligentsia decided to focus on the service end of the coffee chain. The composting collaboration, in which coffee grounds are carried across the street and recycled on the High Line, helps advance that goal. Jennifer Custard-Jarosz, an educator with Intelligentsia, told me the arrangement helps them as much as it does the High Line. “There is so much work that goes into the existence of the coffees we serve, and it’s great to see them perpetuate the growth of other things beyond their consumption.” Like the more than 100,000 plants on the High Line…

Jennifer estimates that Intelligentsia donated 97.8 pounds of organic material during the week of my Cutback shift, but the amount will fluctuate over the course of the year, depending on what people are drinking and when. (Interesting fact: cups of cold brew coffee and tea require more material to produce, and consumption of those drinks rises in hotter weather.)

Coffee grounds and stray beans from the High Line Hotel

After the nitrogen-rich coffee grounds are added, the pile is watered. This elicits a cry of joy from one of the gardeners: “Oh, a nice medium roast!” To my surprise and delight, it turns out that the water used to irrigate the mulch is not New York’s famed tap water but rain, captured in a home-made system that’s filtered before it enters a 250 gallon tank. The gardeners are thus returning a natural resource, recycled rainwater, to the garden beds, and in the process have created for themselves a steady source of water for composting during the winter months when the city’s water system has been turned off.

Espresso, cappuccino, double latte, or black, as I take it…

The Spur now smells of freshly-brewed coffee. The pile is turned, watered, turned again; more coffee is added, more plants are tossed in, and the whole process is repeated many times. We are approaching the perfect balance Pettis spoke of. Finally, the fresh green mulch is loaded into a large wooden bin, where it will rest for a week.

Compost Bins

Then it’s transferred to a second bin, where it will spend another week. The natural decomposition process generates heat, and eventually the bins reach as high as 130 degrees. When the temperature drops to 80 degrees it’s time to move to the adjacent bin. One of the gardeners has placed his sandwich in a heavy plastic bag and stashed it under a tarp; at lunchtime, it will be fully warmed. Nature’s microwave.

Meanwhile, an air circulator helps move the decomposition process along, allowing the microbiology to breathe and stay active.

A forced air system airates the bins

The whole process takes 60 days: thirty days of active “cooking” and another 30 days of curing and developing. Then the mulch is transferred to the sifter where it’s tossed, further aerated, and rendered into a smooth, clump-free finished compost.

Finally, it’s shoveled into a wheelbarrow and returned to the garden beds by a smiling gardener. Home again, but this time as an agent of good, bringing nutrients and proteins and helping the soil retain water during the hot, New York City summer.

The morning I was there, a few gardeners were mulching the maple trees in the Tenth Avenue square:

Mulching the root beds in the Tenth Avenue Square

So here the circle of life continues. It’s a sustainable loop that suggests an unappreciated fact about tourists on the High Line: a great many of them are making a small, unwitting contribution to the health of the park as well as to the values of sustainability that animate it, just by drinking a cup of espresso.

It’s a long way from Staten Island.

The High Line @ Fresh Kills

 

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Chelsea Agonistes

The dance of construction around the High Line

Derailed by the death of my mother and a few work projects, I took my eye off this blog for awhile, and have only now begun the process of revising a few pieces that fell out of date. First: the “What’s That Building?” guide. I’ve updated this feature to include many new buildings that have popped up around the High Line in the past couple of years, and also re-formatted it so the photos are larger. In the process of updating I removed the “glimpses of architecture” we can see in the distance — towers, spires, domes — and created a separate page that identifies them; it too is (roughly) organized from south to north. “What’s That Building?” is the most trafficked piece on the site, so I’m happy to have it back in good shape. Thanks to the readers who wrote and gently nudged me.

Writing about new buildings in my neighborhood is tricky because the presence of so much heavy construction is extremely hard on the nerves. I find myself hitting the delete key more often than usual in an effort to maintain composure and objectivity. There are several large projects on my block alone, and we must endure the noise, dirt, blocked traffic and fumes from idling vehicles all day and also (incredibly) late into the night. Developers in this town have so much power and influence that they are able to routinely get permission to work long hours; in our case, work begins at 7am and continues until 11pm, six days a week. And we are lucky; the developer (Albanese in partnership with Vornado) has been extremely responsive to complaints and requests from residents, and the crews are polite and highly focused on worker and pedestrian safety. But there’s only so much they can do. Modern construction requires gigantic machines, sky-piercing cranes, massive flatbed trucks, endless parades of cement mixers, and brutally intrusive, never-extinguished LED klieg lights that cast a creepy, bone-white glow in bedrooms across the street and down the block.

It can feel sometimes that no one cares about the actual people who live on these blocks that are being re-made all over the city. My downstairs neighbor has a small child whose bedroom window looks out on the construction project. Who cares about the late-night disruption to a toddler? Does the Mayor? The Buildings Dept.? The developer? The truck driver? Probably not; their interests are to make the city (and their pocketbooks) hum, one way or another. And so the rest of us suffer through it, doing our best to be good citizens who somehow see, and celebrate, the benefits of all this “progress.” It would be so much easier to accept if at least half of all this new construction were devoted to affordable housing. We would still suffer the long, ugly barrage of construction, but at least, at the end of it, our neighborhoods would retain the diversity that drew most of us here in the first place. But that is a subject for another post.

For my part, I take comfort in the originality, diversity and — occasionally — drop-dead beauty of the architecture that continues to noisily rise around me, disrupting my inner peace and that of my treasured neighbors. A few months ago a friend and I hiked north to to see The Inkwell, a former public school on West 45th Street, built in 1905, that has been transformed into a small condominium with eighteen residences. The designers have done a splendid job evoking the history of this place; it’s a great example of adaptive reuse in a residential project. But the neighborhood around it is filling up (and has been for many years) with dreary, glass skyscrapers. Hell’s Kitchen has also been gentrifying fast, but in a much less interesting way (with the glorious exception of Bjarke Ingels’ Tetrahedron on the West Side Highway). We have round-the-clock noise and disruption in West Chelsea, but we also have buildings by Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano, Cary Tamarkin, Annabelle Selldorf, Jean Nouvel, Norman Foster, Shiguru Ban, Zaha Hadid, and Neil Denari.

The designers of the High Line — its architects, landscape architects and staff of the founding Friends group — made every effort to preserve the history of the freight railroad in the physical design of the park they created. I’ve written about this extensively here and in my book, and the examples are numerous, from the preservation of the original railroad tracks and the mix of indigenous and non-native plants that were reintroduced in the various gardens to the re-telling of the story of the West Side Cowboy, making it the fundamental part of the High Line’s creation story. This connection to the past inhabits the entire park, from one end to the other, and despite the recent controversy about whether or not the High Line is “a failure” because it became over-crowded and the neighborhood over-gentrified (also a subject for another post) it is indisputable that founders’ design philosophy is a fundamental part of the park’s success.

Alongside the High Line, as developers madly build out their empires, bits of history can be discovered in the new construction. I’ve found that little observations can calm and delight an agitated mind, so here’s one example for those of you who are also feeling overwhelmed and saddened by the tsunami of change in our patch.

As construction was just beginning at 510 W. 22nd Street, I noticed some odd, round wooden forms on the top floor of a portion of the structure that hadn’t been torn down. I took a photo and filed it away. Last week I was passing by and stopped to have a good look at what will be the lobby of this CookFox-designed office building, and figured out what those forms are for: they are used by the (incredibly annoying) cement pour-ers to create “mushroom columns,” the very same weight-bearing structures that Cass Gilbert used in the R.C. Williams warehouse (the link goes to my High Line Architecture article) and Cory & Cory et al used in the Starrett-Lehigh Building a few blocks north.

Here’s a crummy shot but you can see the columns (and the hugely irritating LED lights that are invading our homes…)

The lobby-in-progress at 510 W. 22nd Street

Below are photos of the R.C.Williams warehouse (now Avenues School), taken by Anthony W. Robins, an historian and expert on Art Deco architecture who wrote the building’s nominating essay for the National Register of Historic Places (and also a terrific book about Grand Central Terminal).

Mushroom column, low floor. Photo by Anthony W. Robins

Note that the columns get skinnier on the higher floors:

Mushroom columns, higher floor, R.C. Williams warehouse. Photo by Anthony W. Robins

And this is an interior photo from the Starrett-Lehigh Building, which also shows this old railroad warehouse’s distinctive windows:

Mushroom column, the Starrett-Lehigh Building

It’s a small consolation amid the daily, eighteen hour onslaught of noise, fumes, dust, light and congestion. But to see the architectural history of the industrial period of this area recalled in a new office building does give me joy. It makes the disruption…

Airborne architectural form, attached to a giant crane on 21st Street

almost worth it.

Mushroom column form in place around rebar, ready for pouring

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Mammals of West Chelsea

 

Friends of the High Line gardeners demonstrate clipper technique

This morning during Spring Cutback training, longtime High Line volunteer Pat Jonas explained the reason for the annual ritual in the “park in the sky.” It’s because “in this prairie we don’t have wildfires to naturally manage the landscape.” We also, Pat mentioned, lack large herbivores – buffalo, for example – who would munch the tops of the grasses and other native plants. And so instead we have an army of smaller mammals: the volunteers of the High Line, who gather every year for this ritual of cleansing and renewal. [Click a photo to enlarge it.]

During training this morning, a group of volunteers talked about the social bonds they’ve cultivated over the now eight years of Cutback. It’s my favorite time of year too, when people of all ages, backgrounds, and parts of New York City come together in usually cold, sometimes downright harrowing weather, and work side-by-side in the gardens with large, sharp tools. For a few hours we clip, trim, slice, clear, sweep. We also talk, share stories and information, answer questions from tourists, and learn about horticulture from the amazingly knowledgeable garden staff.

It’s a real community event with a purpose: to cut back the tens of thousands of plants and grasses on the High Line, so they can begin a new year of growth.

Volunteers working in the garden at around 20th Street

I always feel happy when it’s Cutback time, but this year more than ever. Friends of the High Line has posted signs at every entrance of the park to remind visitors that everyone is welcome here, no matter who you are, where you come from, or who you love. Next month, when the annual March Cutback ritual begins, you will see teams of volunteers in garden beds who would, if they weren’t crouched over a clump of prairie grass, be singing that message from the rooftops. For more about the Cutback, start here.

Cutback volunteer sweeping the walkway

Here’s the Chelsea Grasslands at dawn one March morning, right after the Cutback. This vast project not only makes the park look tidy and young again, but it also reveals the rails, sleepers and ballast — the infrastructure of the old railroad. Visit soon, because these plants grow quickly, and pretty soon the greenery will once again take over, making this look more like a beautiful park than a former freight railroad.

Looking south from 20th Street

 

 

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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 summer 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.

[click to continue…]

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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]

 

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Lehigh Valley No. 79: The Aerial Shot

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.”

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How to Photograph Some Living History on the Hudson River

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 […] Read the full article →

History Sailing By the High Line

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 […] Read the full article →

High Line Architecture: The Whitney Museum

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 […] Read the full article →

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 […] 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 […] 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 […] Read the full article →