Historical

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Author: 
Christian Barclay
Photo by Joel Sternfeld Joel Sternfeld, Fallen Billboard, November 2000. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York.

"As soon as Joel saw it, he took me aside and said, 'I want to do this. Don’t let anyone else up here for a year. I will give you beautiful photos.'" – High Line Co-Founder Robert Hammond, High Line: The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky

Author: 
Clay Grable
Photo by Friends of the High LineMichael Vitiello examines a book of old West Side Line (a.k.a. the High Line) advertisements in the Williamson Library. Photo by Friends of the High Line
 

On the wall of Michael Vitiello’s office, hidden in the upper levels of Grand Central Terminal, hangs a bronzed fedora. It belonged to Paul "Tick Tock" Kugler, the last clock master of Grand Central, who wore it to work there every day of his 47-year career. Michael, Grand Central's supervisor of building maintenance, is the last person Tick Tock trained to service the station’s old self-winding clocks before he retired at age 70. The sole survivor of these “master clocks” also hangs in Michael’s office, a space that feels less like a workplace than a peek into an era that has slipped away.

Author: 
Amelia Krales
Photographer UnknownIn the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Gansevoort Farmers’ Market was one of the area’s primary sources for fresh produce. This image circa 1907 shows a birds-eye view of the hundreds of vendors gathered at the marketplace between Gansevoort and Washington Streets, decades before the High Line was built. Photographer unknown.

‘Tis the season to eat! Friends and family gather to celebrate around delicious meals this time of year. Will you do your holiday food shopping at New York City favorites like Fairway, the Union Square Greenmarket, or Sahadi’s? In the early 20th century, shoppers flocked to open-air markets like the bustling Gansevoort Farmers’ Market, pictured above, to do their grocery shopping. Every morning six days a week, the Gansevoort Farmers’ Market would fill with horse-drawn carts heaped with vegetables trucked in from primarily Long Island and New Jersey. Business would be brisk as home shoppers, grocers, and restaurateurs scoured the market for the freshest goods of the day.

Author: 
Erika Harvey
EnlargeWest Side Improvement Project

In celebration of our new 18-month High Line Calendar, we’re exploring each month’s featured image to bring you more of the behind-the-scenes details.

In 1934, the initial stage of the West Side Improvement Project was completed: a shining new elevated viaduct was unveiled, connecting New York Central Railroad’s freight line with Manhattan’s West Side. This great engineering achievement eliminated 105 street-level railroad crossings and allowed manufacturing and food processing buildings flanking the railway to connect directly with its train cars to load and unload freight.

At the southern terminus of the High Line was a new St. John’s Park Freight Terminal at Spring Street. This massive new building allowed for 150 standing train cars, a leap ahead to support increasing manufacturing demands on the neighborhood’s businesses.

This month’s photo, at right, appeared in a 1934 promotional brochure detailing the West Side Improvement Project. Looking north along the new – and to-date unused – tracks of the High Line, anticipation was building for the debut of the new elevated railways. New York Central Railroad wrote about the project in their brochure:

Author: 
Clay Grable
Photo by Andrew FraszLooking north into the Chelsea Market Passage, the former site of the Nabisco building, at dawn. Photo by Andrew Frasz

First-time High Line visitors may wonder: Does this park run into that building? Does this park go through that building? The High Line does, in fact, run through a handful of buildings. For those who expected their walk to be an exclusively outdoor affair, this impromptu inside view can prove surprising. But what really makes this arrangement so arresting is not the invasion of these buildings’ interiors, but rather those buildings’ accommodation of the High Line.

The truth is that most of these buildings were constructed alongside the High Line specifically to integrate with it. This design allowed the freight trains that ran goods along the High Line to stop in on the second level of these buildings for easy loading and unloading. Originally, many buildings welcomed the High Line inside their loading docks high above the street. Today, the High Line runs through only two buildings that were originally built to host trains: the Cudahy Packing Company building and the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) building.

Author: 
Clay Grable
West Side Cowboy on Death AvenueThe wardens of Death Avenue, working tirelessly to ensure the safety of the people on the street, were none other than the West Side Cowboys. (Although some clearly didn't heed the warnings.) Photographer unknown

Before the High Line became the park in the sky, before it was abandoned, before trains ran goods along its once thirteen-mile length, before its massive, trunk-like beams sprouted from the cobblestones to suspend its metal canopy above the streets below, the West Side of New York churned with reckless energy. Freight trains ran at grade up and down the middle of 10th Avenue, tracks inserted between cobbles, to ferry goods to and from the factories of the Meatpacking District. This interplay of heavy machinery and humanity proved a dangerous mix; the stretch of road became known as “Death Avenue.”

On December 4, 1850, City Council passed a law that created not only a safer 10th Avenue, but also one of the most storied figures in the history of New York: the West Side Cowboys. These men, as the law dictated, rode on horseback before oncoming trains to warn passers-by of their approach. Waving a red flag by day and a red lantern by night, the West Side Cowboys – also known as 10th Avenue Cowboys – protected pedestrians for over 90 years, until their final ride in 1941. At its height, the corps of Cowboys comprised twelve riders and twice as many horses to provide perpetual protection. By the end, though, there was just a single rider and his steed left.

Author: 
admin
ed devlinEd Devlin, on his wedding day in 1950, and working at the Metropolitan Museum in 2009
 

We were recently lucky enough to speak with a former New York Central Railroad employee named Ed Devlin. Sixty years ago, Ed worked at the rail yards that fed onto the High Line when it was part of a working railroad. He was kind enough to share his memories from long before the park in the sky was ever known as the High Line.

ED: It was 1949, and I had just come out of the Marine Corps. I worked at New York Central from 1949 to 1953. My hours were 6:00 PM to 2:00 AM – devastating hours for a newlywed. Approximately once a week, I'd be sent over to the rail yards at 10th to 12th  Avenue in the west 70's. My job was just to look at the freight train as it went by.

I would stand there near a spotlight and do two things. I had to write down the name of each freight car – New York Central, Bangor & Maine, Pennsylvania Railroad, Santa Fe, etc. – and the number on the car, which had something like nine or ten digits. And even though the train was moving at maybe eight or nine miles an hour, it went by fast. It was tricky. I had to remember the names and numbers and write quickly.

At first I wondered why I was doing this. And then I found out that each railroad would charge the other railroads a passage fee for using their tracks. Additionally, it was important to make sure the cars were in the right order for every building scheduled for the drop. The cars' numbers related to their proper order.

Author: 
admin
tommy
 

Friends of the High Line staff have known neighborhood resident Tommy Flamer for a long time. Before Section 1 opened, Tommy was a fixture at all of our Rail Yards hearings, community meetings, and public programs. We would often spot him walking underneath the High Line, looking up.  Always curious and ready to chat, his excitement and friendly demeanor led to quick friendships with many of us on staff. Since the park opened, Tommy sightings on the High Line have been commonplace.

When I finally got to sit down with Tommy on a brisk December evening to ask him some questions, I found an untapped treasure chest of historical information on the High Line and the surrounding neighborhood. Tommy has lived in Chelsea since 1968, and has lived in his current home on 18th Street since 1979. As a young man he worked as a stock boy at the now defunct Valley Drugs, a pharmacy on 14th Street and 7th Avenue, and then as an elevator operator in London Terrace and at the Leo House.

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