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.
As Josh recalled in High Line: The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky, even before the Times article, he had sensed a connection to this amazing relic that had somehow survived 65 years untouched: “I felt what I think is the spark of most people’s interest in the High Line: Wouldn’t it be cool to walk around up there, 22 city blocks, on this old, elevated thing, on this relic of another time, in this hidden place, up in the air?”
After reading the Times article, he was hopeful that someone was working on saving the structure. “I called people who were quoted in the article and asked them: Were there any organizations working on this? There were none – no historical groups, no parks groups, nobody.”
Josh and Robert were both alerted to an upcoming community board meeting where the demolition of the High Line would be under discussion. At the meeting the two quickly realized that no one else was in favor of saving the High Line – it was in disrepair and host to a number of unsavory activities.
“I stayed behind afterward, trying to find anyone else who was interested in saving the High Line,” Robert recalled. “There was no one except the guy who had been sitting next to me. He told me his name was Josh, that he lived in the neighborhood, that he was a travel writer,” he added.
The two men exchanged business cards and agreed to meet at a later date. “So that was the genesis of Friends of the High Line, that first community board meeting where no one else was interested in trying to save it,” Robert says of that fateful meeting. “I think we had both looked around, realized that no one else was doing anything, and that if something was going to be done, we would need to start it ourselves.”
To have moved from the seemingly certain prospect of demolition, to the upcoming opening of the High Line at the Rail Yards this fall – which will allow visitors to walk from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street, crossing 22 city blocks and three Manhattan neighborhoods, 30 feet in the air – is truly extraordinary, unbelievable, inspirational, and deeply moving. It is great reminder of the amazing journey of Friends of the High Line – and the park itself – over these past 15 years, and all of the people that have helped make it possible.
Read more about the origins of Friends of the High Line and the development of the park in the High Line book.
You can also read the original New York Times article, “Up, But Not Running, on the West Side,” that spurred Josh and Robert to action.