We recently added a new collection to our historic image archive, Noah Greenberg’s “Manhattan Promenade” Proposal. This collection dates from 1979, and includes shots of what we now know as the High Line, at a unique moment in its history. Scroll down to see a sample of the collection, or click here to see all images.
In the mid-1800s, 10th Avenue became known as “Death Avenue” because huge freight trains ran there at street level, creating dangerous conditions for pedestrians. Until the street-level trains’ final ride in 1941, the “West Side Cowboys” patrolled 10th Avenue, waving red flags to warn of oncoming trains. By 1924, the West Side Improvement project was working on an elevated rail line to replace the ground level trains and improve safety; the first elevated train ran along what we now know as the High Line in 1933, transporting food and supplies. But in the post-World War II years, as trucking overtook freight as the primary means of moving goods in the United States, and the West Side piers the rail line served became less busy, with shipping moving to Brooklyn, New Jersey, and elsewhere on the East Coast, the elevated train use waned. The southernmost section, from Spring to Bank Streets, was demolished in the 1960s, and the decline in use continued through the 1970s.
It was in the 1970s that Noah Greenberg, an architect who lived on Hudson Street between 10th and Charles Streets, next to the High Line, with his wife Diane, her dog Dinky, and their daughter Becca, took these photographs.
Noah and Dinky used to walk on the tracks of the old, abandoned West Side Elevated Line that had transported millions of tons of meat, dairy, and produce to New York City starting in 1933.
In 1979, just as all traffic on the Elevated line was coming to its final halt, Noah presciently proposed an elevated park be built upon the structural remains of the abandoned rail line, which he dubbed “the Manhattan Promenade.” This collection includes photos he took and the proposal he submitted to Ruth Wittenberg’s Greenwich Village Historic Preservation Group. To view the full original proposal, with text and map, visit our Preservation History Archive here.
Noah was amazed at the beauty and peaceful character of the structure and its railbed. Particularly interesting was the fact that the line ran through the middle of the streets, affording unique views of the Hudson River and the streets of Manhattan. The first section of the line south of Westbeth (Bethune Street) had already been demolished, and Noah felt that this was an important historic structure that should be saved and repurposed. The impetus for his design arose from a proposal being considered at that time to tear down the entire rail structure.
Noah’s proposal was greeted with approval but was never brought to fruition. It would be many more years before any similar proposals were considered, and a full 30 years before the elevated park known as the High Line opened to the public in 2009.
All traffic on the High Line stopped in the early 1980s, and it was at that time that community members began considering the elevated rail line as a site for adaptive reuse.
In 1983, the West Side Rail Line Development Foundation formed, seeking to preserve the structure. In the same year, Congress passed the Trail System Act, allowing people to circumvent complicated land rights issues in order to transform old rail lines into recreational areas. Around 1990, the segment of the High Line between Bethune and Gansevoort Street was torn down (though the section embedded in Westbeth between Bank and Bethune Streets remains there), portending potential future loss for the historic railway.
From the 1980s until the late 1990s, the Promenade/High Line’s prospects and interests in its future waxed and waned. It wasn’t until 1999 that the High Line owner CSX Transportation entertained proposals for the structure’s reuse after initial strong resistance, and ultimately accepted a similar proposal (the city made it more than worth their while; the ultimate plan for the transformation of the High Line into a park was linked to a program for selling the air rights from the rail bed to developers around its edges, sparking an enormous building boom in West Chelsea). Ground broke on the High Line in 2006, and now, we’ve got the world-famous park we know so well. We’re so glad to have and share these images, which show both what the neighborhood looked like then, and the natural grasses and other vegetation that grew naturally there before which became the foundation for the public space we have today.