Earlier in its history, Tenth Avenue ended where it flowed directly into West Street in a sort of "dog's leg" between Gansevoort Street and what is now Little West 12th Street — my large scale Manhattan land-use map, which still shows the Miller Elevated Highway (see below) suggests that this was so on up to the reconstruction of West Street.
For a pedestrian, the barrier to vehicular traffic continuing on into loop connecting Horatio Street with Jane Street a block further south is scarcely noticeable, and the footed eye should be forgiven for seeing this as a continuation of Tenth Avenue, and even — perhaps — for imagining that the avenue continues, as a wide sidewalk apron (but closed to traffic), for yet another block south, to West 12th Street, below which all sense, real or imagined, of Tenth Avenue or its ghosts lies to the walker’s back.
This stretch of Tenth Avenue below 14th Street is all on land-fill, dating back before the Civil War, and indeed, the same can be said of Tenth Avenue even from 23rd Street, where it ended at the Hudson River shoreline when it was first drawn the Commissioners’ map in 1807.
The area south of 16th Street, mostly between 14th Street and Gansevoort Street, was Manhattan’s meatpacking district for over a century, home at its peak to as many as 250 slaughterhouses, of which perhaps 35 remain. In 2003, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) established the Gansevoort Market Historic District, and since 2007, the entire district has been listed on the New York State and National Registers of Historical Places.
Tenth Avenue was the route of the street-level tracks of the Hudson River Railroad, completed in 1851, and continuing down West Street below what is now Little West 12th Street. These tracks — which led to Tenth Avenue’s being dubbed “Death Avenue” — were replaced by the “High Line” elevated railroad in 1934, running just west of Tenth Avenue from 34th Street down to around 17th Street and just east of Tenth Avenue below 16th Street. The High Line was closed around 1980 and after decades of neglect was reopened as a city park from 20th Street down to Gansevoort Street in 2009.
From 1931 to 1989 Tenth Avenue in this stretch below 14th Street was also hemmed in on the west by the Miller elevated highway above West Street, which opened (after two years of construction) in January, 1933, and closed nearly 41 years later, following the collapse of the section between Little West 12th Street and Gansevoort Street in December, 1973, though demolition of the derelict structure was not completed until 1989.
Beyond West Street, the Hudson River piers, abandoned starting in the 1950s with the move to container shipping, are remembered fondly or notoriously as cruising places for anonymous gay sex in the pre-AIDS era. These piers have since either been demolished or rebuilt as adjuncts of the Hudson River Greenway, though the Sanitation Department’s rendering plant across from the old Gansevoort Market still stands.
Over the past ten years or so the area east of Tenth Avenue below 14th Street, especially Washington Street but also Greenwich Street, has gentrified to an extraordinary extent, but this stretch of Tenth Avenue retains something of its original industrial character, in part perhaps because of its tangency to West Street: together, the two together form a concrete and asphalt barrier — heavily trafficked on West Street — nearly 200 feet wide with no viable pedestrian crossing to the Greenway/Hudson River Park and the river itself between Horatio Street and 14th Street.
Even so, even here, there are signs of change. Let’s take a look, starting at the “zero” end of Tenth Avenue, i.e., at West 12th Street.
(Note: click on images to see them rendered larger.)
West 12th Street
SE — 2006: Scaffolding, renovation nearing completion; 2010: neighborhood now upscale (building has uniformed doorman now!); gray plywood construction fence still up with signs “sidewalk closed”; “Financing provided by Hypo Real Estate”; building permits; ads for “PLAZA”; old style trash can still there
NE — 2006: blue plywood construction fence one lot in; 2010: corner building down 2010, vacant lot with blue plywood construction fence old style trash can; building closer to Jane has had facelift
SE — 2006: no signs of change; 2010: porta-potty and structure next to it (mobile office?) suggests construction starting or imminent
NE — 2006: no signs of change; 2010: minor facelift to Hotel Riverview facade on corner (paint stripped off brick and belting, tuckpointing resurfacing, “cornerstone” now prominent & legible), also beyond entrance, the sidewalk doors to basement on Jane now out of sight; planter boxes wrap corner
SE — 2006: scaffolding; 2010: scaffolding down, facelift/renovation apparently complete
NE — 2006: possible vacancy or new tenant suggested by raw plywood sheet in front of first storefront window; 2010: no change
SE — 2006: no signs of change on corner, construction visible at back between Washington Street and Greenwich Street; 2010: Weichsel beef unchanged except for busted parking sign (2006) gone (2010), also “do not enter” sign facing Tenth — is the octagonal stop sign still there, behind it? (probably)
NE — 2006: no signs of change; 2010: building down at back between Washington & Greenwich north of Gansevoort — "do not enter" sign facing Tenth (octagonal stop sign still behind it? looks a little like it) — new building visible in back right, also in far back left
Little West 12th Street
SE — 2006: no signs of change on corner, but High Line restoration visible; 2010: Gansevoort Meat Center has been cleaned up (“facelift” might be an exaggeration)
NE — 2006: scaffolding center left; 2010: new scaffolding on right side of tavern — new building visible in back and another one in far back (both left)
West 13th Street
SE — 2006: construction behind parking lot; 2010: new building finished, parking lot still there; new stop sign, also another sign (faces into 13th, can’t see what it says)
NE — 2006: building appears vacant; 2010: overhead conveyor structure partly down
What do these visible signs of change mean? Especially in an area — not to say "neighborhood" — like this one, a kind of "no man's land," a rump, a remnant of many things simultaneously, left over from the heyday of the meatpacking industry, the elevated West Side Highway, the High Line (and before it the street level tracks), the piers — even for New York, even for Manhattan, this is a lot of change, much of it in a relatively short span of time.
This is enough for one post, but I'll return to the "what does it mean" question very shortly.