The Hidden History of the High Line

Winding its way long the western edge of the Meatpacking District, Chelsea and Hudson Yards, the High Line has quickly emerged as one of New York City’s most innovative and popular new landmarks. Once a rusted eyesore that couldn’t be demolished soon enough, the High Line today receives millions of visitors from all over the world and has served as a catalyst for the revitalization of Chelsea and the Far West Side. Few people, however, know how this unique project got underway. Here’s a quick look at the hidden history of the High Line!

The origins of the High Line actually date back to the middle of the 19th century when the Far West Side of Manhattan was quickly emerging as an industrial hub. In 1847, the city authorized the construction of new rail lines along the west side of Manhattan, quickly transforming the area into a bustling industrial and commercial center. However, the presence of large freight trains running Tenth Avenue proved to be very dangerous, resulting in its new nickname, “Death Avenue.” To work around this, the city began construction of a new, elevated freight line along the avenue in 1929, today known as the High Line. The new elevated line opened in 1934 but gradually fell into disuse after World War II. The rail line was completely shut down in 1980 and eventually scheduled for demolition during the Giuliani Administration.

However, the rusted, disused eyesore had become something of a landmark in Chelsea, prompting residents to protest its slated demolition and instead call for it to be turned into a public park, much like the Promenade Plantee in Paris. In 1999, the Friends of the High Line organization was formed by local residents Robert Hammond and Joshua David with the goal of saving and repurposing the aging rail line. Launching a grassroots effort, the group soon found an ally in new Mayor Michael Bloomberg as well as many wealthy philanthropists like Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller. Public support for the effort quickly grew and the New York City Council committed $50 million to fund the proposed park, backed by more than $150 million in private donations as well.

Construction began in 2006 with the first phase opening in 2009. The unique park immediately proved to be a hit with New Yorkers and visitors alike and subsequent phases later opened in 2011 and 2014. The park’s opening soon proved to be a boon for real estate development and tourism in Chelsea as well.

Once a rusting eyesore that couldn’t be torn down fast enough, the park today is one of the city’s most popular attractions. It’s hard to believe that the popular park, a real estate boon and now copied around the world, almost didn’t come to fruition!