PODCAST All the history that came before the development of Hudson Yards, Manhattan’s skyline-altering new project.
Hudson Yards is America’s largest private real estate development, a gleaming collection of office towers and apartments overlooking a self-contained plaza with a shopping mall and a selfie-friendly, architectural curio known as The Vessel.
By design, Hudson Yards feels international, luxurious, non-specific. Are you in New York City, Berlin, Dubai or Tokyo? Yet the mega-development sits on a spot important to the transportation history of New York City. And in the late 20th century, this very same spot would vex and frustrate some of the city’s most influential developers.
The key is that which lies beneath — a concealed train yard owned by the Metropolitan Transit Authority. (Only the eastern portion of Hudson Yards is completed today; the western portion of the Yards is still clearly on view from a portion of the High Line.)
Prepare for a story of early railroad travel, historic tunnels under the Hudson River, the changing fate of the Tenderloin neighborhood, and a list of spectacular and sometimes wacky derailed proposals for the site — from a new home for the New York Yankees to a key stadium for New York City’s bid for the 2012 Olympic Games.
PLUS: Trump Convention Center — it almost happened!
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The West Side Yards area as it appeared on maps throughout the decades:
Pennsylvania Station, constructed between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, allowing for trains from New Jersey to arrive via tunnels which were dug under the Hudson River and the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad site on the waterfront.
The West Side Elevated Freight Railroad lifted trains off the street and sometimes dropped off cargo right into the buildings themselves.
The Ninth Avenue Elevated Railroad for passengers also streaked through the west side area. This is a view of at Ninth Avenue and West. 13th Street in today’s Meat-Packing District.
And finally, for automobile traffic, the West Side Elevated Highway (or Miller Highway) was constructed in stages during the mid 20th century, further separating the waterfront from the east. By the last 1980s, most of this highway was dismantled.
From the New York Public Library digital collection — a look at the ‘West Side Yards’ area in the late 1920s, before the construction of the elevated freight railroad (aka the High Line) and the elevated automobile highway along the west side. (Captions are those from the original images.)
The ‘Death Avenue’ cowboys, guiding dummy engines down the avenue for the protection of pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles.
The elevated freight railroad in the early 2000s, before it became the High Line and before the area adjacent to it became Hudson Yards.
Images of the new Hudson Yards development, from opening day, March 15, 2019. Photos taken by Greg Young.
For more information about this topic, check out these early Bowery Boys podcast episodes: