I could have called this Old Haunts Two, but one of my wife’s colleagues made me realize that I am a “place” dropper. I don’t know any celebrities, but I tend to drop the names of exotic locations into banal conversations.  I have lived in many different places over the years and at some point I stopped apologizing for my good fortune.

When I moved to New York City in 1987, my wife was already ensconced in an apartment that had none of the attributes New Yorkers find attractive.  At that time, Battery Park City was a “new” neighborhood.  It had been built on landfill from the World Trade Center that had been dumped in the only convenient location, the Hudson River.

It was not chic and it offered little of the City’s charm.  The only grocery store was absolutely atrocious, but the flat was spacious and quiet.   A quiet apartment in the Big Apple is as rare as a cockroach-free bathroom.

She had first spied the apartment building from the top of the World Trade Center.  Much of the development was guided by the Reichmann Brothers of Toronto, who had money and taste, attributes that do not always clump together with that special breed known as developers.  The Reichmanns went on to develop Canary Wharf in London.

The art installations lining the Hudson from the World Financial Center South are well worth a visit, but for me, the crown jewel is the Winter Garden.  It is part of the World Financial Center.  Imagine an Italian piazza covered with glass, sprinkled with full grown palm trees.  When we lived there, a wonderful bookstore called Rizzolis was in the Garden.

The shops have gone downscale since we left, but towering palm trees in a crystal cathedral paved with Italian marble is spectacular.  Unfortunately, the main focus of today’s visitors is the view it offers of Ground Zero, directly across the street.

For the first time since we left New York, we stayed at a hotel in the area.  Our room offered a view similar to the one we had from our old apartment– looking out over the river at the Colgate clock and all the lights of New Jersey.  It was disconcerting to have that panorama again after all these years, framed in a building that was built after we left the City.

We arrived in a deep freeze and I wasn’t prepared for it.  I snapped up some gloves and a hat and started walking.  New York is a wonderful place to walk for the same reason Portland is a good place to bike:  everyone does it.  Even though I lived in lower Manhattan for a year, I had never been inside St Paul’s Chapel.  I ducked in this time, mostly to get warm, and I was charmed by the unpretentious interior of the oldest surviving church building in Manhattan.  It was completed in 1766.

I could not have come at a better moment.  A choir from St. Alban’s College, a South African boy’s school, had just arrived at the Chapel for their very first concert on a multi-city tour of North America.  With my back to George Washington’s pew, I settled in for some foot-stomping African music on a cold December day. The harmony of the beautiful young voices filled the room, putting a sonorous stake through the heart of apartheid.  They seemed to be having a fine time as well.

The New Thing in New York is the High Line.  It was built in the 1930s, as part of a massive public-private infrastructure project called the West Side Improvement. It lifted freight traffic 30 feet in the air, removing dangerous trains from the streets of Manhattan’s largest industrial district. The entire project was 13 miles long, eliminating 105 street-level railroad crossings, and adding 32 acres to Riverside Park. It costs over $150 million in 1930 dollars—more than $2 billion today.

The High Line opened to trains in 1934. It ran from 34th Street to St. John’s Park Terminal at Spring Street. It was designed to go through the center of blocks, rather than over the avenue, connecting directly to factories and warehouses.  The trains rolled right inside buildings. Milk, meat, produce, and raw and manufactured goods could come and go without causing traffic jams at street-level.

In the 1950’s interstate trucking began to take a toll on train traffic throughout the country.  The last train ran in 1980, pulling three carloads of frozen turkeys.  Local real estate developers were all for demolition, but in the mid 80’s, Peter Obletz, a Chelsea resident, activist, and railroad enthusiast, challenged demolition efforts in court.  He wanted to revive the railroad but that was no longer on the table.

Friends of the High Line was founded in 1999 by Joshua David and Robert Hammond, residents of the High Line neighborhood.  They began to advocate for the High Line’s preservation and reuse as public open space.  To say their efforts to save and preserve the line have been successful would be something of an understatement.

The Meat Packing District and Chelsea have been transformed into happening places. The buzz is amazing. It is New York’s new new thing.

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