Hudson River Park runs from Chambers St. along the titular river north to 72nd St., where it changes names to Riverside Park. Together, the two parks comprise Manhattan’s second-biggest park, following Central.
From 1937-1973, West St. and 11th and 12th Aves. were covered by the elevated West Side Highway, which served as a barrier to the riverside docks. The highway was unusual, with mid-span entrances and exits, Belgian block surfaces, and tight turns. The span was closed from the Battery to 18th after a dump truck collapsed the roadway, which was in deferred maintenance for many years. Other sections were subsequently closed and the elevated was demolished in the early-1980s.
A replacement which would involve a waterside highway with parkland, called “Westway” was opposed by environmental groups and criticized as a boondoggle by elected officials. Judge Thomas Griesa eventually blocked a permit to build the road because it was successfully argued that the road would harm the breeding areas for striped bass. Between 1985-2001 the present surface highway, officially known as the Joe DiMaggio Highway, was completed, and Hudson River Park was then developed along the waterfront. Hudson River Park is a work in progress, and additions are being constructed to this day.
A sloop sits in the Hudson River just above the Chambers St. landing where Frederick Douglass landed in NYC after escaping slavery.
Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) later wrote of his arrival in New York: “I have often been asked, how I felt when first I found myself on free soil. And my readers may share the same curiosity. There is scarcely anything in my experience about which I could not give a more satisfactory answer. A new world had opened upon me. If life is more than breath, and the ‘quick round of blood,’ I lived more in one day than in a year of my slave life. It was a time of joyous excitement which words can but tamely describe. In a letter written to a friend soon after reaching New York, I said: ‘I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions.’ Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted; but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.”
Lilac is a 1933 former lighthouse tender moored at Pier 25 at N. Moore St. that brought supplies to lighthouses and maintained buoys for the U.S. Lighthouse Service and the U.S. Coast Guard. Decommissioned in 1972, Lilac is now owned by the non-profit Lilac Preservation Project. Lilac is the oldest lighthouse tender in America and the only steam-powered tender to survive with her steam engines intact. The ship is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and eligible to become a National Historic Landmark.
Compared to locales like London or Abu Dhabi, New York City is staid, architecturally, but there are some modern gems to be found along Hudson River Park and the routes that border it, such as this Department of Sanitation salt shed at West and Spring Sts. It’s part of DSNY’s complex and by far its most novel element. Designed by Dattner Architects with WXY Architecture + Urban Design and opened in 2016, it’s supposed to be reminiscent of a very large salt grain. It can store 5000 tons of salt, in a city that can have as much as six feet or snow or less than three inches over the course of a winter.
The remains of Pier 42 at Morton St. can be seen here. A ferry to Hoboken used to run from Pier 43. You can see the city in the rear including the Erie Lackawanna terminal clock tower at left. I worked at 211 River, in the center, for nine months in 2016. I alternately spend a lot of time in Hoboken or none at all; in the 1980s, I was a devotee of the Pier Platters records store where I’d obtain tickets to shows at Maxwells, named for the old Maxwell House coffee factory in town.
Once the lane that ran along the north side of the old 1797 State Penitentiary (moved to Ossining in 1829 and nicknamed “Sing Sing”) Charles Lane now runs between the twin towers comprising Richard Meier’s glass-faced Perry St. exclusive condominium development. Here’s a look inside one of the apartments, which rented at $60,000 a month in 2017. It’s a contrast to see a bricked lane between these two glassy towers. Charles Lane (1905-2007) was also a busy character actor who appeared in over 300 films and TV shows between 1931 and 2006, usually playing dyspeptic or annoyed bank clerks, judges, professors or clergymen.
Two of the newer and more avant-garde buildings in what had been NYC’s Meatpacking District. On the left is Standard New York, the latest hotel in a chain by hotelier André Balazs, straddling High Line Park along Washington Street between Little W. 12th and W. 13th Sts.
On the right is the new home of the Whitney Museum of Modern Art. The museum evolved out of the personal art collection of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, a member of two of NYC’s wealthiest and historic families. The Museum was founded in 1931 on W. 8th St., moved to W. 54th St. in 1954, to Madison Ave. and E. 75th in 1966, and finally to their new glassy, cantilevered headquarters on Gansevoort between West and Washington designed by Renzo Piano, also the architect behind the new New York Times building and new buildings in the Columbia University Manhattanville campus.
According to the Museum’s website, “The Whitney’s collection includes over 21,000 works created by more than 3,000 artists in the United States during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. At its core are Museum founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s personal holdings, totaling some 600 works when the Museum opened in 1931.”
I’ll continue in a future column what to see along Hudson River Park up to 34th St.
—Kevin Walsh is the webmaster of the award-winning website Forgotten NY, and the author of the books Forgotten New York (HarperCollins, 2006) and also, with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, Forgotten Queens (Arcadia, 2013)