NYC High Line

My very excellent brother, whom I shall call 'DressyMonday' happens to be a prisoner, erm, . . I mean 'resident' of New York City. Although he is not an 'Urban Explorer' by our community standards, he does have an appreciation for my hobby and since moving to Manhattan, has developed a genuine interest in exploring his metropolitan environment and its rich history.

DressyMonday called last week to do some brief catching up with me and also told me that he obtained a set of tickets for a hot site participating in the 5th Annual openhousenewyork Weekend held October 6 & 7, 2007. Specifically, he had tickets to tour part of the abandoned High Line. Obviously, I did not let him off the line until he promised to take as many photographs as his memory card had space for. Presented here are his images and some history about the High Line.

DressyMonday sent along this photographic report of his tour of this
historic elevated rail viaduct. The tour took place in the Chelsea/Hells Kitchen neighbourhood at the still-untouched rail yards section and was organised by the NYC Dept of Parks & Recreation, CSX Transportation and the Friends of the High Line.

Here, DressyMonday conducts a self-directed field sobriety test . . . He was quickly derailed.

Here, an image of rail track, forged at Bethlem Steel, another highly regarded UrbEx abandonment.

I immediately thought of my UrbEx buddy Fedge when I saw this image.

Alpine meadows and sylvan terraces come to mind looking at how opportunistic vegetation took hold here.

One is reminded how very close the city is with this shot of the station.

I can almost 'hear' this steel rust in this shot.

Thanks for the great shots DressyMonday !

Some History of the High Line

Transportation of goods such as perishable food stuffs (think about the meat packers), raw materials and manufactured goods to and from market has always been an important consideration for any growing city. To this end, In 1847, the City of New York authorized the street-level railroad tracks running down Manhattan's West Side.

Shown here is the present-day path of the High Line running along the Manhattan's West Side from West 34 Street near Javits Center to Gansevoort Street in the West Village.

Given that there was just over one-hundred street crossings, it is a no-brainer that the number of people killed by these trains led to 10th Avenue becoming known as "Death Avenue" (see note below).

2 September 1895, Boston Daily Globe, pg. 4:
"One of the avenues of New York city is called 'death avenue', from the fact that over 100 people are killed or injured annually by passing steam trains. It ought to be a desirable location for undertakers."

In 1929, the city was forced to elevate the length of track now known as the High Line to remove the trains from the roads. This raised viaduct, or the High Line, as it became known, was built between 1929 and 1934 and runs twenty-two blocks along the west side of lower Manhattan. The remaining structure, now more than 75 years old was built to last.
Shown here in this March 1933 image, is the sturdy bare steel construction before the reinforced concrete deck was laid down. This was designed at the time to safely support two fully-loaded freight trains.

With its official opening on June 28, 1934, the New York Times called the new High Line "one of the greatest public improvements in the history of New York". And indeed it was; this elevated freight railroad was designed to pass through, or just beside, the buildings whose businesses it served, such as Armour Meat Packers, National Biscuit Company (10th Avenue and 15th Street), and the Manhattan Refrigerating Company (now apartments).

Shown here in this 1930's image is the line passing through the Bell Laboratories building (near 'Westbeth' - or West Bethune Street). In order to eliminate vibrations that would have disrupted precision instruments, the railroad built caissons independent of the building.

Other sustomers included Merchants Refrigerating Co., Swift & Co., Wilson Meats, Cudahy Packing and Spear & Co. The St. John's Park freight terminal at the south end was used by customers including Borden, Colod, Libby, Sealright, Shannon Bros, Magazine Shippers, Woolworth, Universal Carloading and Western Carloading.

Shown here is a June, 1933 image showing the USPS Morgan Parcel Post Building, which had its own spur.

From Rail-to-Ruin - The Immediate Decline
By the time the first delivery took place on 1 August, 1933, a large portion of NYC manufacturers were being adversely affected by the Great Depression. Within a few short years, almost a third of U.S. railways entered into receivership. By the mid-1940's, advertisements such as this one on the right practically begged manufacturers to locate along their serviced route.

Improvements to interstate trucking in the 1950's and competition from other shipping ports sounded the death knell for the freight line. A portion of the High Line, south of Bank Street, was demolished as a direct result of the decline of rail commerce. In November of 1980, the final train to rumble down the tracks moved 3 box cars of frozen turkeys.

The Future
Threats to tear down the viaduct came from property owners and developers in the 1990's. Joshua David and Robert Hammond responded to this threat and founded the community group, Friends of the High Line. The group is actively pushing for the preservation and re-use of the former rail bed as publicly accessible park or green space. Proposed designs includes gardens, floating ponds, sundecks and lookout spots over the Hudson River, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. Although they have met with some limited success, the fight is far from over.


jannx said...

very tasty piece on the NYC line!

neX said...

so, c6......

when are you visting? ;-)
judging by the historical shots, the industry surrounding the line is would definitely be interesting.

CopySix said...

I would most certainly love to go. From what I could determine, the passive security (fences, etc.) is fairly tight but can be managed. Access points to abandonments formerly served by the High Line have, in large part, been bricked up but I would still expect to find a handful of porous sites worthy of photographic documentation.

Mendoza said...

Thanks for that, really interesting. It's quite someting to have a nearly complete railway just left lying around, disused.



air33 said...

I love NYC very much, thanks for posting this. Last year I came across a photo book which documented this location, although the name slips my mind. Was excellent, I'm sure you could find it on amazon.

CopySix said...

Hey there Air33 . . . I suspect that the book you speak of is "Joel Sternfeld: Walking the High Line". This photographer documented the seasonal changes on the High Line from May 2000 to July 2001.