"We gratefully remember the late Peter Obletz, railroad aficionado, community leader, Chelsea resident, and champion of the earliest movement to save the High Line."
If you've paused near 14th Street on the High Line over the past few years, you may have noticed this sentiment engraved on a panel of steel signage in the 14th Street Passage. It's impossible to tell the story of the High Line without remembering Peter Obletz and his visionary efforts to bring the structure back to life.
Peter Obletz is known to many as the man who purchased the High Line from Conrail for $10 in 1984. Peter was a West Chelsea resident and a neighborhood activist who served for a time as the chair of Community Board 4. Peter lived near the High Line, and he had an understanding of trains: he had once purchased and restored two railroad diner cars, which he coupled together on a section of track near 30th Street and 10th Avenue. Today, there is a bench in his honor at 27th Street that overlooks the apartment where Peter once lived.
It was near this area where Peter first explored the elevated rail line we now know as the High Line. At the time, the structure was no longer in active use as a freight rail, but Peter had climbed a set of stairs to the top of the tracks in 1982, and immediately saw the site's potential. As he told a New York Times reporter in 1984: "It was a terra incognita up there... Unrestricted space. Unimaginable tranquility."
Today would have been Peter Obletz's 70th birthday. We are deeply grateful to his family and friends who came to the High Line today from all over the country to share their memories of Peter.
Further reading: "The Charming Gadfly Who Saved the High Line," New York Times