By Maria Hadjidemetriou
There have been many stories written about the High Line but what of Robert Hammond, one of the co-founders of Friends of the High Line.
Robert and I met on the High Line at the 10th Avenue Square on a very breezy morning; this was the first cool day after the eight-day muggy, heat wave we had in July. Hammond fell in love with the High Line the way many of us did, from the outside – the exterior of the winding steel curving through Manhattan’s West Side from the Meat Packing to Chelsea and the curiosity of what is inside. In 1999, upon reading that the High Line was at risk of being torn down to make way for developers to build up these dilapidated neighborhoods, he was amazed that they could “just tear something down.” He found it “so rare to have this railroad that ran through all these neighborhoods,” believing that “it’s our industrial heritage.” He decided to take action and save a piece of New York history together with Joshua David whom he met at a town hall.
At the beginning, Robert hit the phone to call everyone. He received so many rejections he called it “rejection goals” rather than “sales goals.” This passion to get supporters on board to save the High Line gradually became his career. He credits his parents with his involvement in the High Line. His mother was very creative and his father had a passion for volunteering with parks, caring deeply for civic life. Having recently visited Section 3 of the High Line, where wild flowers stand strong with imbedded roots on tracks that were planted in the 1920s, I can see how Robert felt the High Line might lose its magic. It felt so peaceful and powerful at the same time standing on a piece of New York history; a whole new city will rise and Section 3 will be as exceptional as the rest of the High Line. Hammond found the last section bittersweet commenting, “We are going to leave it wild, we are going to have a walkway but leaving it really the way it is.”
Related and Oxford Property Group have donated over $29 million to the project and as of 2015 they are the only private developers that will pay for the maintenance of the High Line on their site. This is a continuous effort of Related and Oxford in giving back to the High Line that is never ending. None of the High Line will disappear to make Hudson Yards more accessible instead the South Tower bridges over the Spur of the High Line East of 10th Ave, similar to what the Standard Hotel does or the Chelsea Market. It is semi enclosed with columns on the South side and ceiling of 60’ in the air. The art installation by Carol Bove will not be displaced. An interim walkway will be created for us to continue enjoying her vision that has been created for the High Line. Underneath the High Line there will be a 40,000 square foot and a very much needed Fairway Supermarket which has become one of New York’s favorite brands.
In February of this year, Hammond announced that he would be leaving his position after 14 years. Remarking on his departure, he said, “I’m excited one hand because I’m ready for a new chapter of my life but I’m sad because of the people I work with; I just feel so fortunate. The staff, volunteers, board…they care so much that it surprise me and excites me. It is such a great community, it’s a family and I will miss them. I went to a stairwell today and cried for almost 20 minutes.”
At age 43 Robert has an incredible future ahead of him because he lives and leads his life with passion. He has no plans yet but will be taking some time off, possibly to travel.
Robert is a person who with no deep pockets nor network, was relentless, tenacious, and passionate in reviving a piece of history in our beautiful island. We all thank you Robert.
“The development of Hudson Yards would not have been possible without the significant public investments in transportation, infrastructure and new public spaces. The city should be commended on being so forward-thinking in making these targeted investments to support the growth and development of the west side of Manhattan.” Michael Samuelian, VP of Hudson Yards.
Maria Hadjidemetriou has been a passionate Downtown resident for more than 13 years. She enjoys life as a mom to her five-year-old daughter and being a Real Estate Sales Agent for the Leonard Steinberg and LuxuryLoft Team; she also contributes monthly to Downtown Mom TM. Maria has been an active Board Member for the Cooley’s Anemia Foundation (Thalassemia Organization) since 1998 and on the Executive Committee since 2013.