Walk Description

The meandering, block-paved streets of Manhattan's meatpacking district and the old, steel rail tracks of the elevated train that runs overhead—the so-called "High Line"—provide a glimpse back through time to an era when New York lay at the crossroads of American commerce. Although upscale restaurants and boutique clothiers occupy many of the old meat lockers and have transformed the area into one of the most exciting destinations in the city, it is still possible to explore the industrial heritage of the city to understand its crucial role in history. During this two-and-a-half-hour walking seminar through the meat-packing district and along the newly opened High Line Park, in the company of an urban historian, architectural historian, or preservationist, we'll trace the history of New York's industrial age from the 1840s to the 1940s. 

Using the warehouses and market spaces still standing, including several of the earliest examples of refrigerated industrial buildings in the U.S., we'll begin our walk by looking at the rise of the meatpacking industry, industrial innovation, and urban planning in this part of Manhattan. We'll trace the rise of this area back to the opening of the Erie Canal and development of the great American trade routes in the 19th century, we'll begin our walk by looking at  at the architectural remnants of commerce and the stunning architectural details still evident in this neighborhood, including the predominance of brick facades, the aesthetic reign of certain architects, the use of metal canopies, and, of course, the wonderful Belgian block paving still visible on most streets. Along the way we'll learn how the meatpacking industry declined (along with the Hudson waterfront) with the rise of containerized shipping, and some of the innovative preservation work that's going on here that, in turn, has made the area one of the hottest locales on the island.

With the basic history under our belt, we'll turn our attention to the High Line, a former elevated freight railroad built in  1933 by the New York Central Railroad. At the time of its construction, the High Line was an innovative and efficient way to move freight from warehouse to trains, and avoid the recurring theft that plagued streetcar services. Such businesses as Bell Laboratories and Nabisco, which ran plants and warehouses in the meatpacking district, benefited from this greatly.

After sitting abandoned and broken for several decades, the High Line was rescued by a robust nonprofit and converted into a stunning elevated park, or greenway, similar to the Promenade
Plantée in Paris. Designed by architects Diller Scofidio Renfro along with the acclaimed landscape firm Field Operations, the High Line has rapidly become one of the most beloved open spaces in the city. We'll enter the park at 12th and Gansevoort and walk all the way to the end at 22nd Street. Along the way, our docent will explain the role the line served in the early part of the 20th century as a kind of main artery or life line for industry. Among the details we'll discuss is the innovative original design, which brought the railway through buildings, allowing companies to load freight cars direct from their platforms. We will also focus heavily on the conservation of the High Line, it's redevelopment, and the thorny political and design issues that lined its path to redemption. We'll emerge with a strong appreciation for American industrial heritage and how old, rusty places like the High Line and Meatpacking District can find new life in the contemporary city.  

Our walk will end with a view towards Hell's Kitchen, the
rough-and-tumble New York neighborhood made famous in West Side Story and intimately connected to the High Line and history of American industrial history.


Duration: 3 hours
Category: History
Venues: High Line Park
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    Matico Josephson

    Matico Josephson has been a student of New York's built environment for as long as he can remember, and an explorer of the city's nooks and crannies for even longer. His curiosity has found an outlet in the History of Architecture, in which he has recently been pursuing a Ph.D. at NYU's Institute of Fine Arts. He will prepare a dissertation on modern architecture in Spain.

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    Hansel Hernandez-Navarro

    Hansel Hernandez-Navarro is an architectural conservator specializing in cultural resource management and the preservation and rehabilitation of historic buildings and monuments. Over the years, Hansel has gained extensive experience through a variety of projects involving the preservation and conservation of historic and cultural resources. He has done site conservation work in the US, Italy, India, and Portugal. Hansel has also had various research and writing roles at the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles,
    the World Monuments Fund, and the Museum of the City of New York. Hansel received his Master's in historic preservation from Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. He is also active in the documentation and preservation of buildings of the modern movement.

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    Michelle Cianfaglione

    Michelle Cianfaglione received her undergraduate degree in architecture from the University at Buffalo and her masters in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania. During her education, she traveled extensively through Italy and Japan studying art and architecture. She is a third generation New Yorker who lives and breathes the culture of the city. Michelle is a published artist, avid photographer, and a member of Design in 5, which is affiliated with the Architectural League of New York. She began her career at Studio Daniel Libeskind and is currently teaching architecture at the New York Institute of Technology while practicing architecture here in NYC.

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    Meisha Hunter

    Meisha Hunter is an architectural historian and a historic preservationist. In 2007, she was awarded the Rome Prize in Historic Preservation from the American Academy in Rome, where her research focused on the construction history, water management, and stewardship of a still-active, 21km long, 2000 year old aqueduct. Her writing, travel and collaborative projects focus on historic waterworks infrastructure and her photographs have been exhibited in Florence and Rome. She currently lives and works in New York City.

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    Daniel London

    Having earned his Master’s degree in History and Philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center, Daniel London continues his pursuit of the urban past through intensive research into the following questions: How have cities been built, experienced and imagined by different social groups across time? How have these understandings conflicted or converged with each other? And finally, how have these discussions and debates impacted the city we see today? He is currently teaching a course on American Urban History, working at the Museum of the City of New York, and is planning his dissertation on public space in early-twentieth century New York.

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    Kathleen Hulser

    Kathleen Hulser is an independent historian who teaches urban history at the New School for Social Research in New York. During her eleven year career as public historian at the New-York Historical Society she curated or worked on the curator teams for exhibitions on Slavery in New York, Little Germany and the General Slocum Disaster, Grant and Lee in War and Peace, Lincoln in New York, Up on a Roof, Nueva York, and Petropolis: A Social History of Urban Animal Companions. She also ran the research and public interpretation projects "Run for Your Life" about the Underground Railroad in New York. She is currently working on new digital interpretations of the War of 1812. She has written and lectured about brick wall signs, teaching digital humanities, the history of slavery and abolition, and celebrations, parades and rioting in the city.