Last updated: 6:22 am
June 9, 2009
Posted: 2:22 am
June 9, 2009
IT TAKES only about 15 minutes to stroll the length of the High Line Park's just- opened first section from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street.
But they might be the most fun 15 minutes you can spend upright. The elevated park's premiere phase is so enchanting, and more than worthy of expectations, that you'll only want more. The second half-mile extending north to West 30th Street is supposed to open in the fall of 2010, and it can't come soon enough.
By now, everyone knows the back story: nearly 30 years of public and private drama and trauma over what to do with an industrial-age railroad trestle 30 feet above the street, where no train ran after 1980. In a rare misjudgment, Rudy Giuliani wanted to demolish it.
Ever since Mayor Bloomberg put the city's muscle and money into the scheme in 2002, the park's struggle to be born, catalyzed by visionary Friends of the High Line founders Robert Hammond and Joshua David, has been chronicled to the point of tedium.
But if you're tired of High Line hype, you're in for a surprise. It's beautiful, witty, recreationally compelling and emotionally captivating from end to end. What an astonishing variety of effects the designers and landscapers managed to pull off in such narrow confines!
The railroad theme announces itself at the outset when you enter at Gansevoort Street: strips of actual preserved tracks and ties, overgrown with a profusion of pretty flowers representing the wild species said to have sprouted after the trains stopped running.
It seems contrived only at first. As the track segments end, reappear, fade and return again as you proceed northward, they grow more persuasive and haunting. This was a railroad, and the engineers must have loved the ride.
The High Line affords perspectives you can't get from the street or from inside a building. If yachts on the Hudson don't capture your fancy, the arm's-length view into an Equinox gym class, seething with lithe young bodies, should do the trick.
Weaving astride and across 10th Avenue, the park cheerfully reveals and superimposes strata of city history like old "March of Time" murals. It rubs shoulders with graffiti-scarred tenements. It runs under the new Standard Hotel, which straddles the High Line like a jolly colossus, and through an old loading-dock area of Chelsea Market.
The latter is blessed with Spencer Finch's "The River That Flows Both Ways," an art installation of 700 laminated glass panels -- which, no doubt coincidentally, blocks views into the national security offices housed above Del Posto at 85 10th Ave.
Under a sky bigger than Manhattanites normally enjoy, cross streets fall away as in old postcard images, framed by brick facades you feel you're seeing for the first time.
An open-air parking garage, surprisingly intricate from above, competes for your loyalties with the roof of a veal-processing plant. Where the park veers toward the river at 18th Street, new buildings designed by Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel blossom.
There's no telling which spots will be most popular, but brace for the crush at an amphitheaterlike lookout point at 17th Street, where sloped wooden steps afford a grand view up 10th Avenue.
Lead designer James Corner said he sought to preserve the original High Line's "melancholy and solitude." Enough of its lonely mystique survives to evoke New York's vanished industrial age.
But forget solitude. This won't be a place for quiet contemplation but for the joyous, casual public massing that makes New York unique and most exalted among cities.