History Lesson, Pt. 1: The Westbeth Artists Community

While the High Line itself is rich with its own unique and storied history, it is also part of the larger historical context of the city it has called home for over a century. In this recurring series, we hope to rediscover the High Line by taking a look at some of the important historical locations in the surrounding area.

westbeth_small1Built between 1880 and 1900, The Westbeth Artists Community is located at 463 West Street. From 1898 to 1966 it functioned as a laboratory for the Bell Telephone company, when it served as America’s largest industrial research lab. Many major technological inventions and innovations in the field of telecommunications trace its origins to the lab, including the first experimental talking movie, radar, the first phonograph record, and black and white and color television, an invention of particular significance for fans of such fine modern television programming as The Jerry Springer Show and Baywatch. The site was even home to part of the Manhattan Project during World War II. Continue reading

“Cheap Lunchrooms, Tawdry Saloons and Waterfront Haberdasheries”

The 1930’s Federal Writers Project WPA Guide to New York City, which I love, has a great description of the Hudson waterfront during the time the High Line was built. From the chapter “West Street and North (Hudson) River Waterfront”:

The broad highway, West Street and its continuations, which skirts the North River from Battery Place to Fifty-ninth Street, is, during the day, a surging mass of back-firing, horn-blowing, gear-grinding trucks and taxis. All other water-front sounds are submerged in the cacophony of the daily avalanche of freight and passengers in transit. Ships and shipping are not visible along much of West Street. South of Twenty-third Street, the river is walled by an almost unbroken line of bulkhead sheds and dock structures. North of Twenty-third Street, an occasional open spot in the bulkhead permits a glimpse of the Hudson and the Jersey Shore beyond.

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Chelsea: 1986.

[West 17th Street at 10th Avenue, looking west.]

In some ways, Chelsea in 1986 in not so different from what it is today. Sure, the neighborhood has changed and evolved in many ways, but it has also remained a diverse community of people, activities, and uses. The preservation and reuse of High Line adds another interesting element to the rich history of Chelsea and when Section 1 of the High Line opens later this year, the neighborhood will evolve yet again. Photos courtesy Department of City Planning.

[9th Avenue, looking north.] Click to see more photos. Continue reading

Photo of the Week: West Side Cowboy Twofer

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[Cowboy on 10th Avenue and 17th Street. Click to enlarge.]

This is one of our favorite historical images. The West Side Cowboys were employed by the City to ride in front of street-level freight trains and wave pedestrians out of the way. This was the City’s stopgap measure to stop the carnage on what was known as “Death Avenue.” The Cowboys were phased out after the High Line was built, raising train traffic to the third story of industrial buildings. The cowboy above is from the 1930’s, when the High Line was being built, and the structure is visible in the background. The cowboy below dates from 1911, before the High Line was a glimmer in its daddy’s eye.

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[Cowboy on 13th Street and 11th Avenue in the Meatpacking District. Photo from Shorpy.com, the 100-Year-Old Photo Blog. Click to enlarge and note the guy with the pegleg.]

After the jump, the 1934 London Terrace Tatler waxes eloquent about the Cowboys and their brave ponies.

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1930’s Rail Yards

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(click photo to enlarge)

A view looking Southwest at the working rail yards, taken shortly after the High Line was built (date and photographer unknown). Note the boxcars; the rail yards were originally used for freight, but are now used for Long Island Rail Road trains. The Miller Elevated Highway can also be seen, to the right.

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