History

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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
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.

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: 
Erika Harvey
EnlargePhoto of the High Line by Iwan Baan

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.

Photographer Barry Munger captured this dreamy shot of the High Line at the Rail Yards in the summer of 2007, nearly two years before the first section of the park would open to the public. Barry has been a longtime supporter and friend of the park, often focusing his keen eye and old-school film cameras on a variety of High Line subjects.

In 2007, when this photo was taken, construction was underway on the first two sections of the High Line from Gansevoort to West 30th Streets. Section 1 of the park, running from Gansevoort to West 20th Streets, would open to the public nearly two years later, and Section 2 would open a year after that. Yet, in 2007, there was still uncertainty surrounding the High Line at the Rail Yards. It wasn’t clear whether the full vision of the High Line could be realized and this last half-mile stretch saved and transformed into public space. It would be over five years before the future of this final piece of the High Line would be secured.

Author: 
Erika Harvey
EnlargePhoto of the High Line by Iwan Baan

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.

Renowned architectural photographer Iwan Baan captured this iconic High Line aerial photograph around the time of the opening of the second section of the High Line in June 2011. Iwan photographs many of the most prominent architectural projects in the world, often turning his lens to subjects in New York. (You may also recognize him as the photographer behind the shocking New York magazine cover image of a half-dark cityscape following Hurricane Sandy.)

Iwan’s photo on this warm June evening encapsulates not only a moment in the High Line’s history, but a moment in New York City’s history. Below are a few of the “timestamps” visible in this photo:

Author: 
Madeline Berg
At the height of its activity, the High Line was one of the city’s most prominent food distributors, delivering processed meat and baked goods to hungry New Yorkers. Photo courtesy of Kalmbach Publishing Company

As anyone who has had to pull off a Thanksgiving feast in a pinch knows, frozen turkeys can save you from familial shame, complaining guests, and a holiday meal of subpar take-out. Frozen turkeys also hold a special place for us here at the High Line, as they made up the precious cargo of the last train to ever run on the High Line.

In 1980, the railway’s final train made its way up the West Side, ending the more-than-century-long use of trains as a primary transport to and from the factories and warehouses of the Meatpacking District. While the trains began to fall into disuse in the 1950s with the rise in interstate highways and decline in manufacturing, there was a time when the tracks played an essential role in providing New York with food such as produce and meat, raw materials such as bricks and wood, manufactured goods, and other vital items, like Oreos.

Author: 
Madeline Berg
The West Side Cowboy rides up 10th Avenue at 26th StreetNot just an urban legend, West Side Cowboys rode in front of trains to warn pedestrians and traffic of the oncoming rail. Photo courtesy of Kalmbach Publishing Company.
 

It’s hard to imagine that beneath the calm refuge that is now the High Line there once laid a street so chaotic that it was less-than-fondly known as Death Avenue. For almost one hundred years, the High Line’s predecessor—the New York Central freight line—dangerously plowed up and down 10th and 11th Avenues, leaving people, carriages and cars in its wake.

The need for a freight train to serve the factories and warehouses on the West Side was addressed in 1846 but the street-level tracks were not among the city’s best plans. The block-long trains ran through cross streets and traffic, killing and maiming hundreds of people.

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