A Close Look at the New High Line Park in New York City

Built on an elevated train track, New York's High Line Park destroyed one resident's privacy, but also created a stage to perform.
By Robin Shulman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 10, 2009


Construction can have unintended consequences. Build a park on an old elevated railway train track in Manhattan, and a hotel that straddles that park, and New Yorkers turn the whole thing into a stage.

In the hotel's glass-walled rooms, you have guests who strut nude -- and more. Facing the park, on the fire escape of a nearby apartment building, you have a performance artist who stages nighttime cabarets of song and spoken word. And businesses and advertisers with displays at eye-level to the new park suddenly have a captive audience.

"It's a natural stage," said Patty Heffley, who has taken to giving evening performances on her fourth-floor fire escape since the third-floor-level High Line park opened June 9. "How could you not perform? There is a separation from the street, and a bit of anonymity."

In this city where neighbors keep telescopes trained not on the skies but on other neighbors, visitors in the know sometimes come to the High Line seeking a more burlesque kind of show from the windows of the adjacent Standard Hotel, said Nicole Thurmond, a security officer in the park.

"I've had people ask me which window they use," she said, noting that there's been action viewable in many a window. "My opinion is: If you want that, you should pay for it on cable."

Of course, there's more to the High Line than exhibitionism. It is an innovative and lovely stretch of walkways and greenery, with just the right suggestion of wild, and it is comfortable, with enough architectural flourish to make it also captivating. In places the rusted railway tracks are still visible, with wildflowers growing up through the gravel.

The High Line extends from Gansevoort Street north to West 34th Street, but the first phase of the park reaches only as far north as West 20th Street. A second phase of the park is scheduled to open at the end of 2010.

The first train passed over the elevated track in 1934, to avoid the deadly accidents common on the streets of a district that included hundreds of slaughterhouses and meat processing plants. But in time there was less need for the track, and the last train ferried three carloads of frozen turkeys across it in 1980. As the platform languished, a few neighborhood residents began to lobby to make it a park.

As the city prepared for the park opening, the escapades of guests at the newly constructed Standard Hotel, a towering, glassy building supported by massive concrete pillars on either side of the High Line, became a hot topic in a cold winter.

Most mornings, butchers from the Meatpacking District gather on the street around the High Line and gaze up into the hotel rooms, which have floor-to-ceiling windows and gauzy curtains that are often open.

Just after sunup, José Vásquez, a butcher for London Meat Co., pointed to a man wearing nothing but his briefs on the seventh floor, three rooms from the west. Then he noted another man in similar costume on the sixth floor. Then, on the eighth floor, three rooms in from the east, a manager who gave his name only as Jules pointed out a naked man hovering against the window for a good 15 minutes.

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