BY GABE HERMAN | The High Line’s newest section, the Spur, opened to the public on Wed., June 5. It runs east from W. 30th St. from the main High Line, and ends with an open plaza above Tenth Ave.
The plaza includes the Plinth, an art space that will feature a different work every 18 months. The first work is “Brick House,” a 16-foot-tall bronze bust of a black woman by artist Simone Leigh.
The entire Spur was originally an offshoot from the High Line for trains to enter the U.S. Postal Service building at Tenth Ave., which is still in use. The tracks are visible along the new path, part of which runs underneath the tower at 10 Hudson Yards.
The Spur is the final section of the High Line to be turned into park space, though it took a “Save the Spur” campaign in 2008, organized by Friends of the High Line, to ensure the section survived.
The Spur was built in the 1930s and connected freight trains to the Postal Service’s Morgan Processing Center. Trains stopped running on the tracks by the 1980s.
Even after efforts to preserve the High Line began in 1999, the Spur was still under threat. It wasn’t until 2012 that the city acquired the part of the High Line that skirts the West Side Yard rail yards and said that this section would be safe from destruction.
At a June 4 opening ceremony for the Spur, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, co-founders of Friends of the High Line, thanked the many local officials and activists going back 20 years for helping to make the Spur, and the High Line over all, a reality.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, both in attendance, were thanked, along with Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, local community boards and artist Simone Leigh.
A special thanks was given to Gifford Miller, who was City Council speaker from 2002 to 2005, and who David and Hammond said played an important role in bringing the High Line back to life in its new incarnation.
David and Hammond even thanked former Mayor Rudy Giuliani for being an adversary of the High Line and thus galvanizing park supporters to fight for it.
“Someone you just love to hate,” Hammond said of Giuliani.
David said of all the park’s supporters, “I’m deeply grateful to all of you for what you’ve each done to make the High Line possible, and for some 20 years now being such good friends to Robbie and to me.”
“Less than 10 years ago, I thought we might lose this piece that we’re standing on,” Hammond said of the Spur. He noted this year is the 20th anniversary of the founding of Friends of the High Line and the 10th anniversary of the elevated park’s opening.
“But to me,” he said, “it’s really about looking forward because our work is just beginning.”
Speaker Johnson thanked the two Friends cofounders for their work on the park, including behind-the-scenes work on programs that he said don’t necessarily attract many headlines. Those include teen programs, programs for several local schools, and a horticulture program for young people.
“Even though the High Line has become an international symbol of what is possible, the High Line has never strayed from its roots of being integrated in the local community,” Johnson said.
He also noted that it was unknown for a time if the Spur would be saved.
“Because of everyone who’s here today,” he said, “we’re able to stand here and celebrate this incredibly special and important day.”
Johnson said he was in awe of Simone Leigh, and being “in front of this incredibly important piece of art, which is about black beauty and black female beauty, and is so important for our city.”
Brewer said she wanted to add a thank you to Peter Obletz, who was a local champion of the High Line going back to the 1980s. She recalled being with him at the High Line in 1984, and called him a gadfly during the years when she was working for Councilmember Ruth Messinger.
“He bugged the living daylights out of us about this friggin’ railroad thing,” Brewer said. “He never stopped calling, but look at the result.”
Obletz died in 1996 and didn’t get to see the High Line become a park. Brewer said that, in addition to thanking Hammond and David and others involved in advocating for the High Line, Obletz deserved appreciation.
“I want to make sure that Peter gets his recognition,” she said, “may he rest in peace, because he was a true visionary.
“Green space is really precious on our island,” Brewer added, “and so we’re so happy to see this last section of the High Line, this amazing Spur, extend the green streak in this amazing urban landscape.”
According to the park, the Spur’s plant life includes 8,500 perennials, 69 trees and shrubs, and the largest planting beds on the High Line.