Riverside Park South—Rust Never Sleeps


69th Street Transfer Bridge

In a New York winter sometimes you get a day right out of the box—bright, shiny and welcoming. Last Sunday, we answered the call of such a day and took a short walk along the west side of Manhattan, along the bank of the Hudson river in Riverside Park South.

Every inch of Manhattan tells a story, and along the west side of the island the story is the railroad. In the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, railroads were booming and The West Side Line, built by the Hudson River Railroad in 1849, continued to operate freight until the 1980s. Today the western edge of Manhattan retains the signs of the old West Side Line—most famously in the revitalized High Line—but also in its unsung uptown cousin, Riverside Park South.

The two reincarnations of the railroad boast distinctly different personalities. The extroverted international pop star that is the High Line offers a unique “fly-over” through Manhattan’s buzzing areas of Chelsea and the Meatpacking district. Successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, crowds jostle and squeeze along the artfully landscaped elevated strip of rail—a tourist’s version of THE place to be seen. Odds are if a tourist has memorized two English words for their New York visit, they’ll be, “High Line?”

In contrast, in the deeply un-hip Upper West Side sits the quietly grounded cousin Riverside Park South—an extension of Riverside Park birthed through a deal in the 90s with The Donald. Most days, you’ll have this unassuming park and its esplanades, boardwalks, piers and coves to yourself.

At first glance of the park, as with the High Line, the rusting railroad relics call to mind another era, that of a distressed New York in the troubled 70s and 80s. Close up these original pilings, piers and rusting gantries reveal themselves as deliberately preserved elements of the former rail yard.

The gateway to the park at the north end, the New York Central Railroad 69th Street Transfer Bridge, has been augmented by a restored shunting engine, logos of the old railroad companies and paths with the freight’s far flung origins and destinations etched into the walkways—Liverpool, England! Merrick County, Nebraska! Erie, Pennsylvania!

Reminders of its railroad heritage are present even in the new piers jutting out into the Hudson which are set at a 22-degree angle; the maximum turning radius of trains at the time. A respectful nod by the park’s landscape architects Thomas Balsley Associates to the land’s former use.

So in our “railroad buff” of a park, along a 500m stretch of bank, we decided to photograph (with our trusty Nikon D300 and iPhone 5) whatever we saw—focussing on both the industrial and organic details. At the end of our walk, as if out of a Woody Allen movie, we stumbled upon a jazz musician practicing inside one of the many public art works. A perfect note on which to end.