Exploring the New York’s High Line Part I


Imagine cowboys trotting on streets with their horses in front of trains yelling “Get out of the way” in the so called “Death Avenue”. Years later it got popular when the popular actress from Sex and the City “Samantha” bought the condos in Meatpacking District of New York and Big Names in Fashion started setting in . If the name of Meatpacking District makes you go ewww, today it is one of hippest (and probably happiest with the locals) part of the town. The Highline is a park build on an old freight railroad. The railroad was built by making holes in the buildings of manufacturing units at certain sections. Imagine being part of a traffic theater where visitors can be part of a running traffic portrait of themselves. Because to New York traffic is meditation. The Highline is fun!

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Highline & Food

The Highline is an elevated mile and a half park build on an old freight railroad. During the 1800’s the trains ran on the street to transfer food between cities of New Jersey and New York. In 1900’s with population explosion, there were cars, horses, trucks on the street along with trains.The 12th avenue was once called Death Avenue as so many people were getting hit by the trains. And so at one time, New York had cowboys that trotted in front of the train yelling “Get out of the way”.

When in 1980’s the railroad was abandoned, mother nature magically gifted it some 150 species of plants growing from the seeds that flew from the boats on the adjacent Hudson river. Today its a bustling mecca for people of all age groups . You have cool eatery items on the park, lots of young and old people alike walking in the area, some lounge chairs with wheels, the rail tracks and even a place where you can spot celebrities around one of the condos from the Highline if you are lucky ;) ! Plus you get to surround yourself with trees.

 It’s so interesting to know that the Highline was once delivering food and it came back again to food with Chelsea Market, Food Network Channel office and outdoor food stalls in the summer. The Oreo cookies too were invented on one of the manufacturing units on the Highline.

Life comes full circle.

Guys, IIFA awards 2017 is happening in July in #newyork and I recently had a sweet talk with Katrina Kaif on video conference where she said she loves Highline, Meat Packing District and the area! So, I had to go there :) You can get the information on IIFA here and tickets for IIFA here.

Why Highline?

It’s so unique and unusual that you can’t simply give it a miss when in New York. Here are my top 7 favorite reasons to visit the Highline. We’ll come up with more reasons as we talk about more discoveries in the next part.

The live traffic overlook from 12th avenue overlook

  1. 12th Avenue Overlook: Imagine you being part of a moving city billboard. Yes, you heard me right. Except that it is not a stationary billboard we are talking about. We are talking about what was once build on a purpose of an outdoor theatre they used to call it urban theatre where they had music, dance etc. And then they realize that people just like staring at traffic, its life meditation to New Yorkers. Now its a live traffic theatre. You can sit here for hours mesmerized by traffic and get yourself clicked in front of the glass pane that gives exact backdrop of the current moving traffic and the Cityscape.
  2. The Meatpacking District: We started walking from the Meatpacking District towards the Highline. We were walking on the Hudson street and the reason why its called Hudson Street is because its on Hudson river. The river originally came till here when the Dutch had colonized Manhattan in 1624 and today all of it is land filled. In fact 35% of the island of Manhattan is land filled. So we were walking on a filled river literally(except that we could have never imagined it was a river had we were not told). The specialty of this area is that every construction has to follow historical guidelines to fit in the character of the landmark neighborhood. Other way to identify it is by looking at the street signs (they are brown as opposed to green) and another trademark of the area is there are canopies over the sidewalk. There were with the meatpacking plants from where they would hang the animals from the hooks underneath them and then slice and pack them. Even the new canopies (for example on top of Catch restaurant famous for seafood) build are build to look like old.
    Across the street we saw the building of Gansevoort Market , which also had canopies and were meatpacking plants once. There were actually old townhouses in the 1840’s and 50’s before PAN Industrial area and people of course wanted to get the hell out of this place so they left the area. When the meat packers came in they chopped off the top of the buildings (and normally they try to make buildings higher) . Refrigeration was so expensive back then that they did not wanted to waste floors so 2nd floor had admin office, 1st floor was used for slicing and the basement for the coolers. 22 years ago, when my guide had gone to see the place with her boyfriend, she sensed weirdness with smell of blood in the yesteryear Meatpacking plants but the weirdness turned into coolness when she was surprised by the rockband playing in the underground where the refrigeration used to happen and they were selling Pabst Blue Ribbon.

  3. It’s Funky Grandchild Hipster of Central Park: A lot of us are familiar with Central Park. Central park was bulldozed and planted to make it look like completely natural and this is like the funky grandchild hipster of central park celebrating the fact that its man made. In the 1980’s when the Railroad was abandoned, mother nature magically gifted it some 150 species of plants growing from the seeds that flew from the boats on the adjacent Hudson river and hence as per survey there are plants from all the continents except Antarctica. My guide says she used up here all the time and it was not hard to get up there and walking on it felt like walking through the Prairie of Magic Carpet. Since it was build 30 feet above the street level there were that time Small gardens being plants by people who would actually put planks from their apartments and plant gardens. She recalls during Christmas, somebody had even send out the chords out and set up a Christmas tree and decorated with trash and stuff from the railroad. In the 90’s people started about tearing all these down there main purpose was to convert it into a park and they started seeking support from people to save it. And they were inspired by a park in Paris named Promenade Plantee Gave which is build on an abandoned elevated passenger railroad in eastern part of Paris. In early 2000’s , the city approved the park and gave 50 million dollar towards the 90 million dollars price tag of changing the central park the rest of the money the 40 million was by donation. They started with the first section in 2006 and the section opened in 2009, the second section opened in 2011 that goes up to 23rd street and the final section opened couple of years ago. and the park is what is we called agritexture.

    Its a combination of agriculture and agritexture they had famous architect associated with landscaping. She also pointed out the new Whitney museum that opened couple years ago that bought even more people. We were actually going through trees in the middle of the city on an elevated platform. They pretty much have the same species + 100 more species they had bought in which are more resistant tough plants because they are surviving on just 15 inches of soil. The best part of the Highline is they have retained majority of the train tracks. So you have rail tracks on one side and trees with it. There are also some lounging chairs with wheels that can roll on train tracks.

  4. Sex and the City Bought it in numbers: The neighborhood started gaining more attention with the show Sex and the City. You can’t get through tour of New York without Sex and the city right? In 2000, Samantha, the most daring of the girls moved to the meatpacking district and outside of the building where they shot is the outside of the building still there, which also has some of the sound system, and we are got on TV, so a lot of these scenes from sex and the city was shot in these bars and restaurants and clubs , everybody across the nation knew about it, and everybody started coming in numbers.
  5. It has something to do with Titanic: So we saw a pier where the survivors were bought in 1912. My tour guide showed me picture of people outside the pier waiting to find out if their family member survived or not. There was an old pier 57 nearby this site which was a pier from Marine and Aviation from the 60’s and was largely abandoned and used to have fresh produce market there today it becoming the largest development on the Highline with a 350 million dollar project.What is getting developed there is a cultural center and they are making it look like an Ocean Liner. Anthony Bourdain from CNN , Food Show would also be opening in front part of the ground floor bringing his favorite food from all around the world. Google has also recently taken lease for 15 years.
  6. It began with food and It is food - Chelsea Market & Oreos: There we were shown a building with the silver bridge at a distance. That silver bridge used to connect two manufacturing units. The National Biscuit Company factory “Nabisco” originated from here. They opened in 1898 and moved to New Jersey in 1958. The Oreo cookie was invented here. The building was later abandoned and used for storage, then the developed bought and developed the ground floor of Chelsea Market. Chelsea market is a shopping mall of Food of 50 different outlets from lobsters to milkshakes to cheese. If you love to eat you have to go there! On the rest of the building office building including Television Channels and Studios were created for example, Television Studios New York, Oprah Winfrey show and the Food Channel. The Highline also has many food stalls on it during Summers.

  7. The Stunner Landscape Buildings & Art: We will continue more on this as we walk on the Highline more. But just to give you an idea, we started off with staring at an orange thing which was a piece of art which looked like a chewy toy .
    We passed through another piece of art which was a chess board. The feature of the Highline is it’s an outdoor art museum and every year they have a theme. This year the theme is mutation - about man and nature. Another feature of the Highline is the landscaping of the building around the area by renowned architects keeping the character of the landmark. So we saw a twisty building in the neighborhood from the Highline. We also saw a building that looks like old but is new - a very high priced luxury hotel opened in 2009 by Andre Balazs, which looks like a liquor cabinet opening up from the outside and made to look like from the 1960’s. From the rooftop you can enjoy a gorgeous view of Hudson and enjoy your drinks.

    Then we saw the IAC building another luxury apartment and New Yorkers love to hate that building for the white film that it has. NewYorkers call it the Iceberg. The White Stuff in the building is really cool as it is photo sensitive so when its sunny, it becomes whiter and acts like a screen and when you come back at Night, you can look straight in. Ironically this was where Titanic was supposed to land on the old pier 59 and so the part of the reason why we call it Iceberg is because of that. The whole idea by the architect was to made it look like Ship Sail.
    On the back of it, is what New Yorkers call the Crazy Windows building where the windows were of different sizes and shapes and each of those windows were hand cut by the architects so that when you look through you get perfectly framed images of Manhattan and the views from the buildings are phenomenal for example watching Empire State building at Dusk.

How Guided Tour Helped: 

Had I been just passing through the neighborhood, these stories would have had remained somewhere and wouldn’t have had known. I highly recommend FreeToursByFoot for New York, places in US and couple of European Cities. They are pay what you wish company and the tour is followed by well deserved local certified guides who know the area very very well. I have taken their food tours in the past and I can’t stop talking about them all the time to my friends who does not know about it. In fact, second time visitors to NY are often aware and even some well read First time visitors are aware of them and take it. I find more tourists than locals on the tour. Ellen was my tour guide here.

Highline & History

New York’s Death Avenue

For all the history buffs out there, this place is such a cool place to be at. Just to give you a little history, we were walking into an old industrial area of New York which had started becoming the main manufacturing distribution area in the 1800’s. The population kept exploding every 10-20 years with all the immigration in the 19th century. The East River was once the main manufacturing area which got overcrowded and also the river there was too shallow for the bigger boats and hence the industries moved. They were shipping a lot of the food products from New Jersey across the Hudson river and in 1860’s they started laying rail road freight tracks along street level to move all these foods back and forth. That was working fine until there was another population explosion in the late 19th century and then by the 1920’s the situation was out of control. People started getting hit by the train on the roads. There were about 250 casualties in the timespan of about 5 years including even kids. So many people were getting hit that it was started getting called “Death Avenue”

New York’s Food & Meatpacking District

Since so many people were getting hit, they hired cowboys with horses to trot in front of the train, yelling get out of the way. But this of course was not a permanent solution. In 1929, the city came up with what was called the westside improvement plan to address all these problems and the centerpiece of the plan was the building on elevated freight railroad dedicated to transporting food - that is what they needed to get most of the time when refrigeration was really minimal. They build it from 1929 to 1934 at the cost of 150 million dollars that is about 2 billion dollars in todays money but it was a huge success.

They actually had to cut holes in the building in the factories and the warehouses so that the train would go straight in. And this solved a lot of problems. The death avenue problem was solved. They also used to have a lot of goons coming from hell’s kitchen at the street level and they would wait for the trains to unload and steal out of warehouses. So that put an end to that problem as well.

The Highline was only working for less than 50 years, in 1980, they shut it down and it was abandoned and the reason was the port of New York which was over here on the hudson, moved to New Jersey in the late 50’s and 60’s and that’s because shipping changed after world war II and every thing became about interstate trucking, containerized shipping, airplanes delivering this, much better refrigeration and this area and they needed open water they could find it in New Jersey to put all the containers so all these industries started leaving the area. By the 1970’s the only industry that was still around was the meat packing industry. And thats is why today this area is called the meatpacking district . They were about 250 slaughter houses and meatpacking plants in this very tiny slice of upper greenwich village here. Today there are hardly any.

New York’s Meatpacking Hub to Clubbing, Fashion, Food

In the 1970’s the area was largely abandoned and interesting people started moving in. So you had lot of bad stuff going on, there were Drugs, Prostitution and this was the place where even the police didn’t wanted to go because there was a lot of Mafia activity and killings. My tour guide Ellen said she has a old guidebook from New York from the 1970’s there is a big skull and crossbones on it saying for this place “Don’t go in there”. Along with certain bad characters we also had other types of interesting people moving in who started underground dance clubs and music clubs in the area. That time it was lot of fun to go to these kind of illegal places in the old factories and meatpacking plants. More and more people started coming in and in the 1980’s people started opening restaurants even Fancy French restaurant to cater to clubgoers and in the 90’s fashion designers such as Alexander Mcqueen and Stella Mc Cartney started coming in and that’s when Highline really took off.

We will also have Fashion Trail of New York this week on my blog where we uncover thrift jaunts but before that let's walk further down the Highline as it get's very narrow and crowds sweeps me all the way north!

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