The High Line in 2009 is a story of success. After ten years of arguing, working, raising money, convincing, and building, the High Line finally opened as the civic marvel that many had dreamed it could become during its decades of disuse. However, this story of success began with a much earlier fight back in the 1970s , when a man named Peter Obletz first walked the High Line- what he referred to as a "mile and a half long cocktail sausage on toothpicks." Though Obletz ultimately failed to convince the city to reuse the High Line, his initial fight paved the way for the successes of the future.
Obletz, a former dance-company manager and train enthusiast, lived in a concrete block railroad building next door to two antique rail cars he had painstakingly restored in the late 1970s. Obletz took his first trip up to the High Line during this time and fell in love immediately. The subsequent story has been recounted many times since, from his purchase of the line from Conrail for $10, to his long and draining fight to preserve it both for commercial and public use, to his untimely death in 1996.
Journalist Karen Cook once wrote a lengthy piece on Peter Obletz and his original campaign to save the High Line. She was inspired to reach out to us after visiting the park for the first time last month. Karen interviewed Peter for a 1987 article for Manhattan, Inc. magazine, which offers a more personal look at Peter, as well as his prescient ideas for the High Line;
"We proposed that during the time when the trains weren't running, that perhaps the railroad line could be devoted to some recreational uses for the community – a linear park or jogging paths, something like that...It's an incredible environment for pedestrians, but it takes a lot of preparation if, you know, we're committed to things like full access – there's one ramp and a couple of stairways," he said.
Read the full post on Karen's blog.
Read his New York Times obituary