An abandoned elevated railway called the High Line is bringing the high life to west Chelsea, a Manhattan neighborhood that seems to be approaching the apex of a decade's worth of resurgence, rehabilitation and revitalization.
Chelsea -- home to storied institutions such as the Hotel Chelsea and the General Theological Seminary as well as block after block of elegant, 19th century row houses -- may have been added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, but it's not preserved in aspic. The neighborhood, particularly in its riverfront, industrial western reaches, is now at the forefront of Manhattan's design, dining and residing scenes.
The High Line, which carried rail freight from 1930 to 1980, is being redeveloped into a $50 million elevated park, or greenway. The first section of the line, from Gansevoort Street, in the trendy Meatpacking District, to West 20th Street in Chelsea is due to open within a year and promises to become a major Manhattan attraction.
The prospect of the new 1.5-mile, 6.7-square-acre greenway 30 feet in the air has further fueled a neighborhood renaissance that started two decades ago, as art galleries priced out of SoHo began to move into industrial space in west Chelsea. They were soon followed by a handful of designer clothiers and trendsetting restaurateurs, earning the area a growing reputation as a "must-do" for locals and visitors alike.
Now the imminent High Line is serving as a conduit of style, piping in even more celebrity chic and designer dash north from the Meatpacking District. The airborne greenway seems to be an architecture magnet, with some 25 new corporate, residential and hotel structures by world-famous architects under development alongside it.
Hotelier Andre Balasz is cantilevering the New York outpost of his hip hotel brand, the Standard, right above the High Line itself. It joins nearby Meatpacking hot spot the Gansevoort Hotel and the Maritime Hotel at Ninth Avenue and West 16th Street in forging a new accommodations infrastructure for the once-blighted area.
New architectural ground was broken in Chelsea by Frank Gehry, with his enigmatic IAC Building, which opened at the Westside Highway and West 19th Street in 2007. IAC soon will be joined on West 19th Street by three neighboring "designer" residences by noted architects Jean Nouvel, Shigeru Ban and Annabelle Selldorf. Each promises to be a sight in its own right.
For example, Selldorf -- who also designed the David Zwirner Gallery, one of New York's leading galleries, across the street -- draped $65 million luxury residential structure 520 West Chelsea in midnight blue, glazed terra-cotta tile and glass.
"On one small street, you have the interesting dynamic of a quartet of contemporary architects," said John Jacobson, co-president of 520 West Chelsea developer Bishopscourt Realty and a neighborhood resident himself.
Design devotees headed to west Chelsea can revel not only in these striking structures but the plethora of galleries, as well.
"West Chelsea is based around art galleries," said Jacobson, noting the neighborhood boasts some 300 such venues. "On weekends, you get huge crowds."
And those crowds get cravings. A wave of restaurant openings has followed in the wake of the gallery, hotel and residence boom. Options range from cupcakes at Billy's Bakery to four courses at Bette.
"Two years ago, there was pretty much just one restaurant, the Red Cat; now you have Del Posto, Morimoto, Craftsteak and Cookshop ... all from 23rd Street to 14th Street," said Jacobson.
Those include gourmet gallery Chelsea Market, a collection of food outlets, markets and shops in a former Nabisco cookie factory abutting the High Line. Other west Chelsea attractions include the riverfront Hudson River Park and the Chelsea Piers sports and entertainment complex.
For more on Chelsea and other New York neighborhoods, go to www.nycvisit.com.
Kenneth Kiesnoski is Travel Weekly's Destinations Editor. E-mail him at [email protected].