Peter Obletz: The High Line’s Original Friend

Peter Obletz

Obletz outside his home in 1983

The High Line in 2009 is a story of success. After ten years of arguing, working, raising money, convincing, and building, the High Line finally opened as the civic marvel that many had dreamed it could become during its decades of disuse. However, this story of success began with a much earlier fight back in the 1970s , when a man named Peter Obletz first walked the High Line- what he referred to as a “mile and a half long cocktail sausage on toothpicks.” Though Obletz ultimately failed to convince the city to reuse the High Line, his initial fight paved the way for the successes of the future.

Obletz, a former dance-company manager and train enthusiast, lived in a concrete block railroad building next door to two antique rail cars he had painstakingly restored in the late 1970s. Obletz took his first trip up to the High Line during this time and fell in love immediately. The subsequent story has been recounted many times since, from his purchase of the line from Conrail for $10, to his long and draining fight to preserve it both for commercial and public use, to his untimely death in 1996.

Journalist Karen Cook  once wrote a lengthy piece on Peter Obletz and his original campaign to save the High Line. She was inspired to reach out to us after visiting the park for the first time last month. Karen interviewed Peter for a 1987 article for Manhattan, Inc. magazine, which offers a more personal look at Peter, as well as his prescient ideas for the High Line;

“We proposed that during the time when the trains weren’t running, that perhaps the railroad line could be devoted to some recreational uses for the community—a linear park or jogging paths, something like that…It’s an incredible environment for pedestrians, but it takes a lot of preparation if, you know, we’re committed to things like full access—there’s one ramp and a couple of stairways,” he said.

Read the full post on Karen’s blog

Read his New York Times obituary

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4 Responses

  1. This story is a nice summary of Peter Obletz’s pioneering efforts to save the High Line. I’m pleased to see Peter receiving credit for his vision for the reuse of an important piece of Manhatten’s history.

    The Friends of the the High Line has done a masterful job of raising awareness of the need to protect and enhance this wonderful structure. BRAVO. The first section to open is spectacular.

    Posted by Tom Obletz, one of Peter’s three brothers.

  2. Peter was one-of-a-kind, and is still missed by the many many New Yorkers who knew him.

  3. Hey, there is no Wikipedia article about Peter Obletz, and the Wikipedia article about “High Line Park” does not even mention Peter Obletz at all.
    This needs to be remedied ASAP.

  4. I walked the High Line with Peter shortly after he bought it, so I was atuned to his passion for its reuse. In fact, we eventually walked the entire line from Bank Street (southern terminus then) to the Harlem River at Spuyten Duyvil. Amtrak now operates over the line south as far as Penn Staion.

    I do hope the connecting loop around the LIRR yards west of Penn becomes part of the pedestrian park.

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