How the High Line Has Changed Manhattan: Part 1
The world's most famous elevated park is a magnet for real estate investment, from the Whitney opening next year at the southern end to Hudson Yards rising at the north. Today, Bisnow begins its three-part series on the park's history and evolution, as well as the changing real estate landscape around it.
First, meet our guides. We snapped New York Historical Tours’ Kevin Draper at the High Line’s most photogenic side, looking south to the Statue of Liberty over the spurs that enabled freight trains on the elevated railway to drive goods right into the industrial buildings. Now, such factories and warehouses are being converted or razed and redeveloped into offices and residential. (The Statue of Liberty wasn't available for comment—without first getting on a ferry.)
And along the sundeck portion of the park, here’s Eastern Consolidated’s Adelaide Polsinelli, who donned a dress with train tracks on it to suit the day’s theme and provided commentary on the evolution of real estate values and investment and development along the High Line.
We ascended this staircase at the southern end of the park (Washington and Gansevoort in the Meatpacking). Kevin tells us the entrance is designed to evoke the park’s roots as the railway for the NY Central freight line. Until the tracks were elevated in 1930, the mixture of trains and pedestrians at street level had earned Tenth Avenue the name Avenue of Death. The rail line thrived until 1950, when long-haul trucking emerged, and lasted until 1980, carrying Thanksgiving turkeys on its last run.
Until Joshua David and Robert Hammond each presented the idea at a ’99 Chelsea community meeting to convert the tracks into a park (Chelsea was 49th out of 50 NYC communities for park land), the real estate community wanted to tear the structure down. But Joshua and David formed Friends of the High Line, and the idea gained endorsements from the likes of Kevin Bacon and Edward Norton. Adelaide recalls that an investor and developer put the 37k SF (280k SF buildable) 529-539 W 29th St on the market for $10M, excited by the prospect of the railway coming down. When it didn't come down, they thought the property’s $35/SF value would plummet. Instead, the investor eventually sold it to Related in 2005 for $40M. Now, Adelaide says, even air rights are going for $900/SF. (Almost as high as airline tickets.)
Kevin tells us the Whitney was among the early investors in land near the High Line. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s namesake museum started in the West Village, moved to 76th and Madison in 1966, and will move to its new building (which we snapped above), a return to its original neighborhood, next year. Building owners crave walk-on access from their buildings to the elevated park, but the High Line is shielded from commercial interests and so, access to the park is allowed only by stairs and elevators from street level, Kevin says. Still, the Whitney and at least one residential developer have been kind enough to devote space in their buildings for public High Line bathrooms (consider our photo above to be a PSA).
The High Line offers a stellar view of the Weehawken spot where Aaron Burr delivered a mortal gunshot to Alexander Hamilton in their 1804 duel. They took their fight to the Jersey side of the Hudson, Kevin tells us, because dueling was illegal in New York. (It's the same reason everyone goes to New Jersey before jaywalking... right?)
Ever notice that the uber-hip, luxury Standard hotel, which was one of the first High-Line-sparked projects and straddles the park at 13th Street, isn’t all that uber-hip and luxury looking? That’s by design. Kevin tells us the hotel was trying to suit its industrial surroundings. From the park, The Standard resembles an open book; the idea is that walking the High Line is like reading the chapters of NYC’s book. The open book theme also extended to the hotel’s lack of curtains when it first opened (the desire for privacy obviously has trumped exhibitionism).
Stay tuned for loads of coverage of the increasing density and new development projects as one walks north along the High line all the way to the base of Hudson Yards.