Getting High in West Chelsea


The view from the High Line, above (that shaped building is by Frank Gehry) and on the High Line, below. The plantings are native grasses and wildflowers

One recent weekday afternoon the omnipresent gray sky softened long enough for me to head over to the new High Line Park in West Chelsea for a look see. I climbed the stairs at 20th Street and 10th Avenue and began walking south in this narrow park in the sky.

Located on the elevated tracks of a former industrial freight railroad, the High Line is now a city park with a smooth concrete walking surface and wildflowers (!) in bloom, with just enough track left peeking through here and there to remind you of the origins of this bucolic gem. Thirty feet up from the traffic it's surprisingly quiet, and because bikers and bladers are not allowed the passeggiata is a far more serene experience than at the shoestring park along the Hudson, where unconscious walkers clog up the bike lanes and speeding bikers try not to mow them down.

The park is up there on the elevated line. You can ascend at 20th, 18th and 14th Streets. The stairs at 20th Street, below

Climbing, climbing . . .

. . . The idea of park doesn't really materialize until you're just about on top of it, below. Before the multimillion-dollar makeover you could look out the windows of various galleries to see patches of grass visible sprouting from the gravel, but not like this:

Originally built in the 1930s to carry goods from the 35th Street rail yards to warehouses that line the Hudson River down to Gansevoort, the High Line fell into disuse 50 years later. If you've been to Chelsea in the past two decades, what you saw was a rusting overhead monstrosity that delivered the frequent and numerous droppings of pigeons that roosted there, and until recently served as the anchor for the annoying look-at-me billboard musings of one Patrick Mimran, above. (The overhead is still underdeveloped above 20th Street. Ongoing work is expected to be completed next year.)

For now, it offers a pleasant stroll for 10 blocks, or half a mile. There are some odd segments. One is the overlook at 17th Street, left, a kind of amphitheater whose rows of seats are set to look down on . . . the traffic heading up 10th Avenue. The architects, Diller & Scofidio, did something similar with their media room for Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art, except there the view is of the harbor. But I'm being picky. The amphitheater offers a lot of seats for walkers to sit and talk, have lunch, read the paper, and plenty of sky.

Commerce has asserted itself in some some pleasing and not-so-pleasing ways. Pleasing: Food vendors selling tasty snacks. I had a savory slice of leek and cheese pizza with a flaky crust from, I think, City Bakery. (That pretzel-croissant dough is a unique taste; it had to be City Bakery.) Not-so-pleasing: the gargantuan V-shape building that is the newly built Standard Hotel, which straddles the park with wide concrete legs and towers over it like something out of Transformers.

The Standard Hotel straddling the High Line

Speaking of straddling, there are some views right into apartment buildings that line the slender park, and word has it that a few residents are having sex for all to see. (What's weirder? Being the voyeur or the voyee?) That's gossip, though. I haven’t even seen doggies doing it—and that's because dogs are not allowed in the park.

Uh, I'm the voyeur with the camera reflected in the window of an apartment.

But enough talk. Let me show you some pictures that take you down to Gansevoort Street:

Above: At 17th Street, looking west to the Hudson

Looking east on 14th Street. The block you see here used to be the meat market, as in actual sides of beef hanging on hooks outdoors. Now it's home to such chi chi shops as Jeffreys. After midnight, it's still a favorite haunt for the tranny hookers. Talk about mixed-use zoning

As I ambled south, the leaden sky opened up. Sun!
That's New Jersey across the Hudson

The original rail line traveled through the center of several warehouses. Now those buildings are under renovation. . . .

. . . Inside one building is an installation by Spencer Finch, who traveled the Hudson photographing the color of the river. Those hues were translated to glass panes which now color the windows of a long stretch of outside/inside wall

Not sure who did this installation, but someone's been color coordinating

A raised bed for plantings; my favorite stretch of track, below

The end of the line: Washington Street at Gansevoort

Below: Cafes and clean streets. There's even a Helmut Lang boutique nearby


lookinaroundbob said...

Next time I'm town I'm gonna have to climb those stairs--Nice pix

Nancy Natale said...

Wow, this was a great post, Joanne. Thanks so much for your pix and thoughts. I loved it!

Matthew Beall said...

This is great, absolutley great. Thanks!

Stephanie Clayton said...

great post! your photos are a wonderful taste of city life.

Jason Messinger said...

Thanks for this post! I've been following the development of this idea for years (from afar) and was excited to see the photos! Can't wait to walk it myself when next in NY.

Richard Bottwin said...

The new park thrilled me too. I felt that I was truly walking in the new century for the first time while I was on it. Perhaps it's because the sleekly modern park (ingeniously lit by diodes at dusk) is elevated and isolated from the street. The train tracks, left as artifacts, create a precedent that turns all of the old 20th century buildings that butt up against the park into artifacts from the past as well. In contrast to this, the adventurous new angular buildings near the High Line are clearly part of its world. It's a bit of architectural time travel for me and I like that...

Marc said...

i had no idea this had already opened! going to try to go this weekend.

Anonymous said...

Like it. Like Richard's impression too.

Admin said...

Cool, Joanne, this looks wonderful- thanks for the in depth report.

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks for the nice comments, everyone. I like Richard's impression too.

RJ said...

Wow. Great to see this in NYC. One of my favorite places south in Paris is the Promenade Plantee which also has made a park out of raised railroad tracks. There are lots of photos on Google images.

Eva said...

Thanks! This was great.

Brad Silk said...

The Highline is magical, and so voyeuristic. When I was up there much of my attention was spent on wondering who lives in the condos, and then towards the north part of the park is that bill board with a woman crotch level to a man greets every Highliner.

Your post is great, and I especially love seeing your refection in the window! Haha.