One decade and over 300 Curbed posts ago, two guys checked each other out in a community board meeting where Chelsea residents were clamoring to get a hulking old railway torn down so they could walk from their townhouses to the river without getting covered in pigeon poop. Those two guys ended up turning dumb luck and a network of friends into an activist group that created a multi-million dollar capital project in urban planning ($150 million for Section 3 alone) and managed to outsmart Mayor Giuliani. Friends of the High Line even roped in a few famous benefactors along the way—Diane Furstenberg and husband Barry Diller have pledged $35 million—as well as thousands of regular people supporters who like parks, and architecture, and saving pieces of New York past.
Now, founders Joshua David and Robert Hammond have penned an inside account of how it all went down. High Line: The Inside Story on New York City’s Park in the Sky includes 200 photos, like the ones shot by Joel Sternfeld that helped galvanize the movement. The devil is in the details: we're pretty well versed in High Line-ese, but even we learned a thing or two about the park's beginnings. For example: gay dance parties!
On how they discovered the High Line: "People would pretend they discovered [it] when they were going to art galleries, but it was really when they were going to gay dance parties at Twilo, the Tunnel, or the Roxy."
The result of 9/11: "Average people got engaged in things that previously only architects and planners cared about. Design competitions and renderings were on the front page of the Post regularly. It became commonplace for people to say things like, 'Should we reestablish the street grid through the super-block?'"
On a 2005 fundraiser at Florent, for which Diller Scofidio + Renfro dressed a model in a dress made of very thinly sliced prosciutto:"After all this, we were going to be undone by the singing vagina and rosary beads. But the article never ran, and the Bloomberg administration continued to view us as acceptable partners."
On the first big donation: "Inside I found Donald [Pels]'s check, which had been written out by hand, like the ones you write to pay the phone bill. It was for $1 million, which made me scream."
On picking the winning architects Field Ops/DS+R: "Liz Diller used the word illicit: you had to crawl under a fence, and you entered a forbidden, secret area that had an aura of past sex and drugs. The team loved the High Line's dark and mysterious quality, which I was also drawn to."
On the other contenders: "The first entry to arrive for the ideas competition was drawn as a cartoon. It turned the High Line into a Mother Hubbard theme park, with the stairs built into a giant shoe."
On the first installment: "It was brutal to see it ripped up. They cut a big hole out of the High Line, and the bulldozers shoved that gorgeous Joel Sternfeld landscape down through it... It became a blank slate, which felt liberating. It freed you from thinking of the High Line purely as something to be preserved and focus [instead] on what you could create there."
On initial Hudson Yards redevelopment plans: "The worst proposal was the Durst/Vornado plan. Standing by the model I started to talk about how terrible it was. The woman tried to tell me how the proposal actually made sense, and I started arguing with her. I had already raised my voice when I recognized her. I was yelling at Helena Durst, the daughter of Douglas Durst."
On public reaction: "We never really knew how many people would come, but we were guessing about 300,000 per year. On a single recent weekend in June, more than 100,000 people visited."
We hear it's holiday season; you can buy the book here for $30.
· High Line: The Inside Story of New York City's Park in the Sky [highline.org]
· High Line coverage [Curbed]