By Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
It is too easy to forget; this neighborhood has been through many dramatic changes.
Most of what is now land west of Greenwich Street was originally in the “North River” so as the riverbank was landfilled, the City laid out West Street by 1824, and bought the Newgate site, New York’s first State Prison in 1826, after the state built Sing Sing upriver. The City then plotted and sold lots, reserving the West Street lots between Christopher and Amos (10th) Streets for a public market (1829).
During this period of development, c. 1819-1853, new maritime and commerce uses became the dominant force in development. The opening of a pier at the end of Christopher Street 1828, with ferry service to Hoboken (1841), part of the old prison adapted for brewery uses by Nash, Beadleston & Co. (c. 1845), and the construction of the Hudson River Railroad (incorporated 1846) along West Street, which completed the forty miles to Peekskill on September 29, 1849, helped to spur commercial activity in this vicinity. Financier James Everard, born in Dublin Ireland, acquired several properties in 1886 and 1893, and built the first of the large warehouses here, a 12-story, Romanesque Revival style structure at 667-675 Washington Street (1894-96, Martin V.B. Ferdon), West Street’s commercial activities exceeded South Street’s by 1890, as New York in the early twentieth century emerged as one of the busiest ports in the world.
No. 714 Greenwich Street (1888-89, Frederick Weber), was the last residential structure built in the GV Far West Historic District until three neo-Georgian style rowhouses were built at 689, 691 and 693 Washington Street (1980-81, Peter Franzese), although the late 1920s is exemplified by the trend to convert tenement buildings to middle-class apartments in the District.
More manufacturing/production and warehousing facilities were built here, and the din of surface railroads was proving to be too much. “West Side Cowboys” famously tried to protect pedestrians for over 90 years, by riding on horseback warning people of approaching trains. But in 1929 the West Side Improvement Project was enacted to prevent more deaths with an ultimate goal of moving rail traffic above the street. In 1934 the first section of the High Line opened on the west side of Washington Street, built in the ‘middle’ of the block to run over or through industrial buildings, which benefited from the freight deliveries. The power of the government and eminent domain was at work.
A mere 30 years later the High Line was deemed obsolete, due to the trucking industry’s domination over rail freight and the removal of the Port of New York to New Jersey, and in the 1960’s the south section was pulled down, the mid-section in the 1980s. New housing such as West Village Houses would take its place along Washington Street. What remains of the High Line is a 1.45 mile elevated rail structure between Gansevoort and 34th Streets, owned by the City of New York, developed as a linear park.