Amazingly, since we last reported on the Gansevoort Market Historic District (Nov. 2017 issue), we see the Meat Packing District quickly becoming one of Manhattan’s “Silicon Alley” districts populated by high tech companies; not just Google/Alphabet, Apple, Samsung, Tesla, and the Chinese giant, Alibaba, but many, many others.
Tech companies are drawn to the “cool” atmosphere of nightlife, fashionable shops, galleries, studios, restaurants, hotels, and the river park. But the real meatpacking companies will soon disappear, just as the vendor stalls of the West Washington Market and Gansevoort Market have long ago disappeared.
According to the 2003 Gansevoort Market Historic District Report, this area was once before a center of technological advancement; mechanical refrigeration was a great advance over the dependence on frozen ice blocks, and the Manhattan Refrigerating Company (MRC) was one of the pioneers in this field in the New York area.
Between 1897 and 1935, “nearly the entire block bounded by Gansevoort, Horatio, Washington, and West Streets was developed with a handsome neo-Classical style ensemble in tan brick, that included a power plant (refrigeration plant) and nine cold storage warehouses” for MRC, which then installed underground pipes that carried refrigeration from that main industrial building to market-related structures throughout the entire Gansevoort and West Washington Market district, from about 1906.
A 1912 city report described this district as “a center from which the food supply of the city may be best distributed to meet the large demand of the downtown residential district and the uptown hotel and residence district. It is the center of the steamship supply district… contiguous to all of the incoming railroads and steamship lines bringing in New York’s food supply.”
The nearby Gansevoort Piers (1894-1902) and Chelsea Piers (1902-10), flanking the West Washington Market, became “long docks for the enormous trans-Atlantic steamships, which had necessitated the elimination of earlier landfill, thus displacing many area businesses.”
These new docks explain what happened to the 11th, 12th and 13th Avenues that once existed before 1910, when “14th Street extended west to the southern end of old Eleventh Avenue, which was as far west of Tenth Avenue as Tenth is west of Ninth.” The two blocks of Washington Street from Little West 12th to 14th Streets were supposedly added in 1890 to expedite traffic due to the new West Washington Market that existed between West Street and Thirteenth Avenue.
—Brian J. Pape, AIA