By Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
In the depths of the Great Depression, 1936, Berenice Abbott was hired by the Federal Art Project (1935-1943) to photograph NYC, including this fascinating view in the West Village, standing near Hudson Street and looking west down Christopher Street.
Front and center is the 9th Avenue Line—an elevated commuter train running above Greenwich Street, with its station stretching over the Christopher Street intersection. Looking closely, we can pick out the steeple and roof of the Church of St. Veronica on the right, and the still-existing 679 Greenwich Street, which is now occupied by the Jeju Noodle Bar, on the far right. The townhouses on the left belonged to the St. Luke in The Fields chapel, which later built an elementary school in place of those houses.
Dig a little deeper into the picture, and we see multiple layers of structures, which are all gone. The first background layer is New York Central Railroad’s High Line railroad trestle running along Washington Street. It was built a few years earlier and replaced a surface track dubbed ‘Death Avenue’ due to tragic accidents involving pedestrians.
The next visible layer is the elevated West Side Highway above West Street, which outlasted all of the railroad trestles, but was finally replaced after an extended battle over Westway proposals, creating the current boulevard.
Finally, and just barely discernible, we see the pier house wharf structures that closed off the street from the river’s commercial piers, which extended well into the Hudson River. That maritime activity produced many industrial jobs for the neighborhood, which was dominated by huge industrial buildings.
What a contrast to the open skies and views down to the river that we enjoy today!
We invite our readers to comment on how the quality of life has changed here since the picture was taken in 1936.