From Wasteland to Parkland Along the Hudson

October 16, 2008 at 3:09 pm Leave a comment

It’s not that New York doesn’t know what to do with its waterfront. It’s simply that almost everything it has done, until recently, was hostile to public use.

These two photographs, separated by 30 years, illustrate the transition of the Hudson River shoreline from a declining maritime port to a dismal traffic corridor to a blank-faced institutional backwater to a slender — but welcome — bit of parkland.

The first picture, taken in 1978 for Paul Goldberger’s “The City Observed: New York,” was intended to show the Starrett-Lehigh Building, a loft and warehouse structure filling the block between 12th and 11th Avenues, and 26th and 27th Streets.

The “Lehigh” in Starrett-Lehigh was the Lehigh Valley Railroad. During the heyday of the port, freight cars were floated across the Hudson from New Jersey and guided over short bridges onto tracks that reached into open-air railyards and riverside terminals like Starrett-Lehigh. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Freight Station, the low building in front of Starrett-Lehigh in the 1978 photo, operated that way. Just south of the B. & O. station was the Republic Carloading and Distributing Company terminal.

Starrett-Lehigh still stands robustly in 2008, but all those window shades in its southern facade testify to its transformation into an office and studio building. Martha Stewart Omnimedia — not exactly the embodiment of industrial grit — is probably its best-known tenant today.

The Republic terminal was replaced in 1988 by the Manhattan Vehicle Maintenance Facility of the United States Postal Service, the building with the big red stripe in the 2008 photograph. The Sanitation Department’s Manhattan Borough Repair Shop took the place of the B. & O. in 1994.

Overshadowing the riverfront in the 1978 view is the decrepit West Side Highway viaduct, which was being dismantled. Like the Central Artery in Boston and the Embarcadero in San Francisco, the West Side Highway represented the nadir of waterfront planning.

It was to have been replaced by the Westway, an Interstate highway that would have tunneled through landfill, but the project was killed in 1985 by strong and persistent opposition.

What has emerged in its place is the Hudson River Park, a narrow necklace of piers, lawns, gardens, artwork, concession stands and athletic fields, stretching along an esplanade and bike path from the Battery to 59th Street. Construction has been going on since 1999, so it seems sometimes that the change is indiscernible. Until you look at a pair of photos like these.

New York Times


Entry filed under: Go Coastal, Manhattan. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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