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Erika Harvey
Joshua David and Robert Hammond at the Rail YardsFriends of the High Line Co-founders Joshua David (left) and Robert Hammond (right) on the Rail Yards section of the High Line in 2001. Photo by Joel Sternfeld, courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

On this day 15 years ago, an article on the High Line ran in the New York Times. In it, a new idea was proposed for the elevated rail, which was slated for demolition at the time. CSX Transportation Inc., which had just acquired the derelict railway, hoped that it might be converted into public space via the federal “Rail to Trails” program.

In what would be a turning point for the historic structure, two men who didn’t know one another at the time – Joshua David and Robert Hammond – read the article and felt moved to change the High Line’s fate. In a sense, today marks the true 15th birthday of Friends of the High Line.

Erika Harvey
EnlargePhoto by Phil Vachon

If you’ve walked to the High Line’s southernmost tip, you’ve likely noticed the abrupt – yet visually captivating – way the park ends. Long ago, during the years that freight trains still chugged along these elevated tracks, the High Line cut a straight path all the way down to St. John’s Park Terminal, which occupied four riverfront blocks between Clarkson and Spring Streets. Between the 1960s and the 1990s, the portion of the High Line below Gansevoort Street was demolished a few stretches at a time, leaving us with the length you see today.

To this day, a remnant of the High Line’s southern portion still adorns the Westbeth Artists’ Housing building, on Washington Street between Bethune and Bank Streets. In this striking recent photo of Westbeth by High Line Photographer Phil Vachon, wild plants can be seen peeking through the fencing along this stranded stretch of railway that almost floats above the city streets.

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

Jennette Mullaney
Photo by Jonathan FlaumHigh Line B&W 15, November 2001, by Jonathan Flaum

This year the High Line celebrates three important milestones: the 15th anniversary of the founding of Friends of the High Line, the fifth anniversary of the opening of the first section of the park, and the opening of the third and northernmost section of the historic railway. The High Line’s transformation from a derelict structure to one of New York City’s beloved public spaces is due to the tireless and dedicated work of thousands of supporters, donors, volunteers, staff members, and elected officials. The following is a snapshot of some of the more memorable highlights on the incredible journey Friends of the High Line began nearly 15 years ago.

Joshua David
Photo by Patrick McMullanElected officials, supporters, and students from P.S. 11 joined in a ribbon-cutting to mark the opening of Section 1 of the High Line in 2009. Photo by Patrick McMullan

June 9, 2009 – five years ago – was a magical day for anyone involved with the High Line.

From the time that Robert Hammond and I founded Friends of the High Line, our goal had been to open the High Line to the public, so that our neighbors and fellow New Yorkers could enjoy the transformative experience of walking a mile-and-a-half, 30 feet in the air, through the centers of 22 city blocks, in a landscape that looked like it had sprung to life from a dream.

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.

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.

Erika Harvey
EnlargePhoto by Barry Munger

Co-Founder Robert Hammond will be stepping down at the end of 2013 after nearly fifteen years of leadership at Friends of the High Line. He leaves behind a legacy that extends far beyond the mile-and-a-half of the High Line. Robert’s creative vision, entrepreneurial spirit, and irreverent approach will live on in the work we do each day, to maintain and operate the High Line.

We asked Robert to share a few favorite memories from his years at the High Line. Follow us after the jump for photos and reflections in Robert's own words.

To hear more of Robert's memories, join us on Thursday, December 5, for a special farewell talk.

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:

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.


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