Photo of the Week: A Look Back at the Rail Yards

Construction crews work on the steel structure of the High Line on West 30th Street. Photographer Unknown

When this photograph was taken in 1933, construction of the High Line, then called the New York Central Elevated Spur, was nearly complete. The elevated railway would soon be carrying freight trains filled with fresh food and manufactured goods up and down Manhattan’s West Side.

In the distance, the Empire State Building pierces the skyline. This feat of modern architecture opened in 1931 as the tallest building in the world, pushing out two other rival New York projects, the Bank of Manhattan Trust building and the Chrysler Building. The Empire State Building’s presence makes this view from the High Line iconic and recognizable, even 75 years later.

The High Line’s original construction was less glamorous and more utilitarian in nature than the Empire State Building. The elevated railway was constructed as part of the West Side Improvement Project, a public works initiative which overhauled freight lines in and out of the city, eliminated dangerous crossings, and expanded Riverside Park. The High Line was built to lift dangerous train traffic off of busy New York City streets, and originally ran between West 34th Street and St. John’s Park Terminal, at Spring Street.

In the 1960s, as freight traffic declined nationwide and interstate trucking became the primary means of transporting goods, the High Line south of Gansevoort was torn down to make way for new real estate development. The rest of the elevated railway remained intact, and it was not until the late 90s that efforts began to transform the structure into a public park. Today the High Line is open between Gansevoort and West 30th Streets, and the final section, called the High Line at the Rail Yards, is under construction.

Below is a recent photo of construction from the same perspective as our Photo of the Week. Wild plants and grasses, which set root when the freights trains ground to a halt in the 1980s, are still visible between the old rail tracks, and plastic tents and tubing from the sandblasting operations can be seen lining the railings.

We look forward to opening the High Line at the Rail Yards in 2014.

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