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The High Line: 11 things to look for on your next stroll
Since it opened in 2009, the High Line has become a destination for locals and tourists alike thanks to its appealing blend of old and new New York, along with its unique viewpoint of the city. But between the vast vegetation and historical remnants upon it and the storied sites below, there's something new to see every time you stroll the elevated rail line turned park's one-mile stretch. "On the High Line," a book by Annik La Farge that touts it as "America's most original urban park," gives an in-depth tour of the spot's history, culture and innovation. La Farge gave amNewYork a peek at 11 things not to miss on your next visit, walking north from the Gansevoort Street entrance, all the way to 34th Street.
The slow stairs
There are plenty of entrances to the High Line, but none quite so grand as the Gansevoort Street entrance, where crews worked to preserve as much of the original railroad's steel beam structure as possible. This isn't the quickest route up, but as you climb the 45 sturdy steps, you'll have plenty of time to ponder the infrastructure that made an elevated railroad possible. (Credit: Photo by Juan Valentin. ©Juan Valentin.)
It doesn't exist on a map, but a portion of this tiny avenue, which goes by the name "Gansevoort Peninsula," does remain-- and the High Line is your best bet for a prime view of it. Thirteen has not exactly been a lucky number for the spot-- since its creation on a landfill in the 1830s, it has been reduced in favor of more profitable shoreline space, has seen many a building ravaged by fire, and was the site of the burning of Wilhelm Reich's books in 1956 by the Food and Drug Administration. Reich claimed to discover a device that could cure cancer, and he ended up in prison. Today, Thirteenth Avenue is the site of Pier 52, which holds a not-so-glamorous salt shed and garage, but it's an interesting piece of history nonetheless. (Credit: Photo by Juan Valentin. ©Juan Valentin.)
DVF's 'Diamond in the Sky'
If the colorful painted lips on the brick wall of fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg's headquarters don't distract you, you'll get a view of a giant geometric figure made of glass that almost blends in with the sky on a clear day. Known as the "diamond in the sky," this is DVF's private penthouse, constructed in Spain from more than 3,000 Swarovski crystal prisms and computerized heliostat mirrors to optimize the amount of light reflected down its luxurious staircase. (Credit: Photo by Juan Valentin. ©Juan Valentin.)
Wildlife may not be the first thing that comes to mind in this urban park, but the area along the Hudson River is a throughway for about 300 species of birds each year, and woodpeckers, finches and even a peregrine falcon have been spotted checking out the High Line. Look out in the spring and summer months for bees-- NYC has more than 200 species of them, and many enjoy the park's plentiful flowers. (Credit: Photo by Juan Valentin. ©Juan Valentin.)
The first piece of artwork to be installed in the High Line's Chelsea Passage, Spencer Finch's "River That Flows Both Ways" may look simple, but don't be fooled. Finch spent about 12 hours in one day photographing the Hudson River, and translated the 700 colors he spotted in the water's surface to these panes of glass. (Credit: Photo by Juan Valentin. ©Juan Valentin. )
The Tenth Avenue Cowboy
Ok, so you won't actually spot a "West Side Cowboy" when you peer down at Tenth Avenue from the High Line today, but you will enjoy transporting yourself back to March 29, 1941, the day the last man on horseback led a freight train down the street. An ordinance in 1850 decreed that the freights could run along Tenth Avenue, but only at a maximum speed of six miles per hour, and with a human guide to warn approaching traffic. So many accidents occurred regardless that the avenue became known as "Death Avenue." (Credit: Photo courtesy of Kalmbach Publishing Co.)
The tenement houses
During the 19th century, immigrants flooded the area surrounding the High Line to work at the riverfront's bustling docks, factories and warehouses, and several of the buildings they lived in are still standing. The High Line is the ideal place to browse their classic architectural details, since you're standing above street level without being at the soaring heights of a skyscraper. Look for one pair across from each other on 17th Street, and another on 28th and 29th Streets. (Credit: Photo by Annik LaFarge. ©Annik LaFarge.)
Vestiges of the old railroad
While the High Line's modern conveniences-- food stands, fountains, lounge chairs-- make it a go-to warm weather spot, its traces of history are what set it apart. On the west side of the park near the Standard Hotel are rusting meat hooks, once used by a warehouse loading dock to transport cargo. One pair of signal lights used to regulate the former railroad's traffic still remains at the northern entrance to the Chelsea Passage at 17th Street, and many rail ties can be found at their original locations throughout the park. (Credit: Photo by Juan Valentin. ©Juan Valentin.)
The Art Deco prison
The art deco engravings and stained glass windows on the building along the High Line at Eleventh Avenue and 20th Street are a sight to see, and before it was covered by the apartment building next door, a beloved mural brightened the south side of it. Once a place for sailors to stay, this venue became a drug treatment facility in the '60s and a women's prison, Bayview Correctional Facilities, in the '70s. The prison evacuated just before Superstorm Sandy, and it never reopened. Its fate remains unclear, but advocates are fighting to preserve it as an important reminder of the neighborhood's maritime history. (Credit: Photo by Juan Valentin. ©Juan Valentin. )
Pharmacy in the sky
Have an ailment? Many of the plants along the High Line have been trusted herbal remedies since Native Americans roamed the island, including Echinacea, used to strengthen immunity and fight colds and the flu. There are even plants in the park that were used to treat typhoid fever and fight rattlesnake venom. (Credit: Photo by Scott Mlyn. ©Scott Mlyn.)
The wild west
The third and final section, High Line at the Rail Yards, is now open, extending the park all the way to 34th Street.
One of the first things you notice may be the trains below (a fitting sight, given the park's history), but as you walk along the new frontier, be sure to look to the west, where you'll get the most accurate glimpse of the natural state the rail line was left in after the trains stopped running in 1980, full of wild plant life.(Credit: Linda Rosier)
'On the High Line'
For a more detailed historical and cultural tour of the park, the updated fifth anniversary edition of "On the High Line" by Annik La Farge is available at Amazon.com.(Credit: Courtesy of Thames & Hudson)