Hidden History: Pier 54

Hidden History: Pier 54

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Development and construction Edit

Historically, the term Chelsea Piers referred to the luxury liner berths on Manhattan's west side from 1910 to the 1930s. With ocean liners such as the Titanic becoming bigger and bigger, New York City was looking for a new passenger ship dock in the early 1900s. The Army, which controls the location and size of piers, refused to let any piers extend beyond the existing pierhead line of the North River (the navigation name for the Hudson River south of 30th Street). Ship lines were reluctant to build north of 23rd Street because infrastructure was already in place, including the New York Central railway line and a ferry station near the river at 23rd Street. [2]

New York City solved the problem in an unusual way by actually taking away a block of land that was the 1837 landfill that extended Manhattan to 13th Avenue. The controversial decision included condemning many businesses. The city was unable to condemn the West Washington Street Market and was left to remain landfill. The market ultimately closed and the dock was converted to a sanitation facility that was used to load garbage barges headed for the Fresh Kills Landfill. The only section of 13th Avenue that remains is behind the sanitation facility, now a parking lot for sanitation trucks. The landfill is now called the Gansevoort Peninsula.

The new piers were designed by the architectural firm of Warren and Wetmore, which also designed Grand Central Terminal. Under contracts let by the New York City Department of Dock and Ferries, the Chelsea Section Improvement, as it was officially called, replaced a hodgepodge of run-down waterfront structures with a row of grand buildings embellished with pink granite facades and formed the docking points for the rival Cunard Line and White Star Line.

Early 20th century Edit

Most of the major trans-Atlantic liners of the day docked at the piers and they played pivotal roles in the RMS Titanic and RMS Lusitania disasters. The two most memorable moments for the pier were with the Lusitania and Titanic. The RMS Lusitania left her Cunard Pier 54 in 1915 before being torpedoed by German submarine U-20. The RMS Titanic was destined for the White Star pier 59 when she sank. Survivors were rescued on Cunard's RMS Carpathia. The Carpathia dropped off the Titanic's lifeboats at Pier 59 before going back south to Pier 54 where she unloaded the passengers and survivors. Thousands of people assembled at the dock to greet the ship.

During the summer of 1920, a dramatic rally was organized on July 31 at the White Star Line docks. This was to send off Daniel Mannix, the Irish born Archbishop of Melbourne, Australia who had been outspoken on the English rule in Ireland, and successfully led anti conscription campaigns during WW1. A reported 15,000 New Yorkers turned up at Pier 60 at the foot of West 20th street to make sure Lloyd George would allow Mannix passage to Ireland. [3] [4]

A luxury liner row was built between West 44th and West 52nd Street to handle larger liners in the 1930s. After New York moved its luxury liner piers to the New York Cruise Terminal between West 46th and West 54th Street in 1935 to accommodate bigger ships such as the RMS Queen Mary and the SS Normandie, the pier became a cargo terminal. During World War II the piers were used to deploy troops. [2] The piers had catastrophic fires in 1932 and 1947 that destroyed some of the south piers. New construction resulted in new cargo piers used by the United States Lines and Grace line.

In July 1936, Jesse Owens and the United States Olympic team depart on the SS MANHATTAN from Pier 60 for the Summer Games in Berlin, Germany. [5]

Late 20th century Edit

In the 1980s, plans circulated to replace the West Side Elevated Highway with an at grade highway going along the West Side south of 42nd Street. The plan called for the highway to run over demolished piers. The superstructure of Pier 54 was demolished in 1991 except for the archway entrance (along with the White Star and Cunard signage). The plan (dubbed the Westway) was abandoned after court cases said the new highway would jeopardize striped bass.

Following the demise of Westway, development of the West Side Highway evolved into two parts: a public/private partnership that evolved into the upper piers being used for recreational purposes. The southern piers are now part of the Hudson River Park while the northern piers make up the Chelsea Piers Sports & Entertainment Complex. Construction of the complex began on July 12, 1994 in ceremonies attended by New York Governor Mario Cuomo, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger. [1] The complex opened in August 1995. [6]

Chelsea Piers Connecticut, the first expansion project of Chelsea Piers, was built in Stamford, Connecticut. The facility opened in July 2012.

After the collapse of the World Trade Center due to the September 11 attacks, EMS triage centers were quickly relocated and consolidated at the Chelsea Piers and the Staten Island Ferry Whitehall Terminal. The EMS triage center was shut down and disassembled on September 12, 2001, due to a lack of need. An ad hoc volunteer disaster recovery site was run from Chelsea Piers through September 16, 2001. Volunteers assisted with resources for ground zero recovery volunteers: sleeping area, food, and cell phones.


Take a walk down 11th Avenue, south of the Chelsea Piers, past 14th Street. You’ll see a semicircular tower of rusting metal, seemingly awaiting the wrecking ball, at the remains of Pier 54. What’s so special about it?

View of the gate from Pier 54.

This gate is the last remnant of a terminal building. Having been preserved by serendipity, it’s now part of a public park on the site, now part of Hudson River Park.

This long, open pier is a refreshing blank slate for runners, walkers and event planners. It has accommodated a huge variety of special guest events, such as the celebrated Ashes and Snow art installation, MTV concerts and the annual Heritage of Pride Dance Party. HRP

Forgotten Fan Kevin Spaans has additional information on Pier 54:

Although the pier itself was in fact a Cunard Pier, the White Star Line leased the property when it needed to, so I’m not sure if Cunard is superimposed on White Star, or vice versa. Anyway, another interesting fact about the pier: this is where the RMS Lusitania, the fastest, one of the most luxurious, and second largest liner in the world departed on its final voyage. As you may know, on May 1st 1915, nineteen hundred men, women, and children departed Pier 54 for a voyage that would be implanted in the memory of folks for years to come. On the 7th of May, the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat, sinking in 18 minutes, and taking 1200 victims down with it (including Alfred Vanderbilt and Charles Frohman). Perhaps the Hudson River Conservancy can be influenced into incorporating the gate into their park, perhaps placing trees and flowers around it, creating a sort of monument for those who died on the Lusitania and Titanic .

A close look at the (very) faded lettering on the crossbar, just below the arch, reveals the words “White Star” and “Cunard” seemingly superimposed.

Forgotten Fan David Seifert:

When the current facade was built the combined line already existed and was operating as “Cunard-White Star” and the facade was so labeled. In the 50’s after yet another corporate restructuring the company began trading as “Cunard Lines” and the facade was modified to reflect the new name.

This is where the White Star Lines berthed grand passenger ships that sailed the seven seas.

One of the spectacular ocean liners that used this gate in their heyday would have been the Titanic itself, though he great liner was due to arrive at nearby Pier 58 — if fate had not intervened, It was there that passengers from the doomed vessel debarked after they were picked up in the icy North Atlantic Ocean by the Carpathia, operated by Cunard.

The White Star Lines weren’t sunk by the Titanic disaster, but U-boat submarine warfare during World War I didn’t help. White Star fared well in the 1920s but then the Depression came White Star Lines merged with the Cunard Lines in the 30s. Cunard itself was bought by Carnival Cruise Lines in 1998.

Forgotten Fan Thomas Loades:

The entire [Pier 54] structure — a big, three-story-high shed, essentially, like a train station on water with waiting rooms, luggage holds, etc. — was considerably damaged by fire sometime in the 1930s, and rebuilt to the same kind of design, although the concrete facade that lined the West Side highway and surrounded the remaining gate went from a extravagantly frilled Edwardian-type design to a more streamlined art-deco look, which remained until the building was demolished in 1991. After ships stopped going there, the lower level of the pier was used (informally) as a parking lot. It sounds like it would’ve been awesome for urban exploration if it were still there.

This is one of the few remnants of the West Side (Miller) Highway, which ran above 12th Avenue until it became too deteriorated to remain standing in December 1973.

The city tore down the el structure from 1974-78. This wing-shaped concrete slab is one of the last remnants of the structure.


Rising from the remnants of Pier 54, Little Island sits on a site that has played a pivotal role in the story of the Hudson River and its surrounding communities. Every visit to Little Island is a reminder of the dynamic evolution of New York City's waterfront.

The Lenape Tribe

The land of Hudson River Park, where Little Island is located, was once home to the Lenape tribe during the early colonization of America. The Lenape used the park land as a seasonal encampment for hunting and fishing, in addition to conducting trade along the Hudson River.

Maritime History

The 19th and 20th centuries saw the Hudson River waterfront transform into a busy port of entry. Between 1910 and 1935, Pier 54 operated the British Cunard-White Star line, serving as a point of departure and return for trans-Atlantic ocean liner voyages. In 1912, survivors from the famed Titanic disaster arrived to safety at Pier 54 while aboard the RMS Carpathia rescue liner.

In 1915, the RMS Lusitania departed from Pier 54, only to be sunk by German U-boats off the coast of Ireland five days later as a casualty of World War I.

The steel archway at the foot of Little Island’s South Bridge entrance still remains from the Cunard-White Star building.

A Community Space

The pier eventually fell into disuse until the 1970s to the early 80s, when Pier 54–along with other piers south of Chelsea–became a safe haven for New York City’s growing LGBTQ community. Here, they could openly socialize without fear of harassment and discrimination. In 1986, Pier 54 became home to the annual Dance on the Pier event. For over 25 years, the event took place at the pier as part of the Pride festivities. Pier 54 eventually became part of the newly-formed Hudson River Park in 1998, where it also served as a venue for summer events and concert series.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit New York City’s coastline, heavily damaging several piers along the Hudson, including Pier 54.

A park for the future

In 2013, Barry Diller of the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation, in partnership with Hudson River Park Trust leadership, embarked on the unique opportunity to envision a solution for the repair and reactivation of Pier 54, recently damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Diller chose to reimagine an entirely new type of public space for New York, one that would create an immersive experience with nature and art.

Historial photos sourced from New York Public Library Digital Collections and the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.


Pier 54 is a long open pier that provides public access. It has an eye catching steel arch at the entrance – remnants of Pier 54’s past pier shed for ocean liner port use. The Pier is one of Hudson River Park’s main event/performance spaces.

Pier 54 has been home to HRP’s RiverFlicks and RiverRocks, MTV Concerts, Wigstock, Heritage of Pride Dance Party, and many more.

Historical Note: Famous Tragedy: Look closely at the entrance arch at Pier 54, and you’ll see that it was once a Cunard-White Star pier. It was the departure point for the Lusitania’s first voyage.

In the future, Pier 54 will be home to historic vessels and will have areas for passive recreation such as sunbathing, strolling, reading or watching sunsets. A large performance space will also be a part of Pier 54’s future.

Steel arch of Pier 54 – the remains of a once-grand building built for ocean liner passengers.

The primary challenges surrounding this assignment dealt with managing public perception and carefully marketing this sale – leaseback opportunity to an international investment base. Other challenges included the complexity of construction over water with hundreds of pilings at different stages in life span.

In addition, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) submerged tidelands land leases needed to be assigned by DNR and approved by both Buyer and the State of Washington. Lastly, Pier 54 had a large office vacancy above the restaurant and some street-level retail that needed to be filled in order to maximize income and value upon sale. Leasehold interests in the property, and as environmental tests showed that anything around the area had the potential for contamination.

Waterfront Timeline

The land and water within the five-mile expanse of Hudson River Park can tell thousands of stories about New York’s and America’s history. Here are just a few of them.

1400s to 1600s

The Lenape, the loose confederation of Algonquin tribes that populated much of latter day New York and New Jersey, establish the Hudson waterfront in what would become Greenwich Village, as an important village and trading post. Near the area now known as Gansevoort Peninsula once existed the Lenape settlement known as Sapokanikan. The Lenape used an old footpath (now Gansevoort Street) to walk directly to the Hudson River. Back then, twelve-inch oysters and six-foot lobsters were common, and fish could be caught with bare hands.


Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian navigator in the service of France, is the first European to visit the New York Bay.


Henry Hudson, whose expedition sailed under the Dutch flag, explores the Hudson River.


The Dutch West India Company establishes the colony of New Netherland. A Dutch trading post called New Amsterdam is established on Manhattan’s southern tip in 1625.


The city’s tallest structure is a 2-story windmill.


New Amsterdam is ceded to the English in 1674 by the Treaty of Westminster, and the colony is renamed “New York.”


General George Washington arrived in New York at the Desbrosses Street pier (just south of the present Pier 34) on his way to Boston to take command of the fledgling American Army. His Tribeca arrival and parade were carefully charted to avoid the British governor, who arrived on an East side pier the same day.


British forces seize New York and fire destroys much of the West Side.


New York State’s first prison opens along the Hudson River waterfront in what is now the Greenwich Village neighborhood. Newgate Prison was intended to be a humane jail however, overcrowding, fires, and near-riots led to its eventual abandonment.


Alexander Hamilton, mortally wounded after his duel with Aaron Burr on the dueling grounds at Weehawken, New Jersey, was rowed to the shores of Hudson River Park, to a pier at Horatio Street. He died the next day.


Robert Fulton’s steamship, the North River Steamboat, often referred to as the Clermont, launched its maiden voyage from Pier 45. Defying all expectations, “Fulton’s Folly” reached Albany in 32 hours, making it the world’s first practical, commercially viable steamboat.


As the War of 1812 loomed and tensions between America and Great Britain increased, Fort Gansevoort was built on what is now referred to as Gansevoort Peninsula and named after Revolutionary War General Peter Gansevoort. Gansevoort’s grandson, novelist Herman Melville, later worked as a customs inspector at the Gansevoort wharf.


The Erie Canal is completed, creating a navigable water route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. New York’s waterfront activity grows exponentially, putting New York Harbor on the top of the list as one of the world’s most prolific working waterfronts.


The body of assassinated President Abraham Lincoln arrived at the Desbrosses Street pier by ferry from New Jersey. Lincoln’s body was placed in a glass hearse and drawn by six horses across Canal Street and down Broadway to City Hall, where over 500,000 people waited to view the President.


The first masonry bulkhead was constructed at Christopher Street by the newly formed Department of Docks. Today, the entire length of Hudson River Park bulkhead is a nationally recognized historic resource.


On April 18 th , the Carpathia docks at Pier 54 with 709 survivors of the Titanic disaster.


The bow notch is created at Pier 45 in Greenwich Village as the final and most extreme effort to accommodate the larger cruise ships that were increasingly using the North (Hudson) River as the embarkation point for their journeys. For centuries, the island of Manhattan was expanded by placing fill into the river. As ships got longer, the federal government established the United States Pierhead Line to prevent ships from interfering with the shipping channel. As a result, at the bow notch, land was excavated to permit longer ships to dock alongside the adjacent pier without extending into the channel.


The Holland Tunnel opens. It was named for its chief engineer, Clifford Milburn Holland, who died shortly before construction was completed. It was the first tunnel designed for automobiles to pass beneath a body of water, and it also one of the earliest examples of a mechanically ventilated design. The tunnel’s four ventilation buildings — some of which can be seen from Pier 34 in the Tribeca section of Hudson River Park, contain eighty-four fans. The Port Authority’s original plan to build a bridge across the lower Hudson was rejected in 1913 in favor of a tunnel because a bridge high enough to clear harbor shipping required the purchase of a prohibitively costly amount of access land. The Holland Tunnel Vent Shaft is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


A 60-foot section of the West Side Highway collapses at Gansevoort Street, bringing attention to NYC’s deteriorated West Side waterfront.


Hudson River Park Act is signed into law. Hudson River Park project breaks ground.


The first complete segment of Hudson River Park in Greenwich Village opens.

About Us

Hudson River Park runs four miles along Manhattan’s west side attracting over 17 million visits each year. The Park provides an oasis for New Yorkers and visitors alike with a variety of recreational and educational activities.


Of course, the far west end of 14th Street isn’t dead it’s arguably more active than it ever was, with celebrity-bait restaurants, clubs and fashion boutiques. However, with the impending closure of Western Beef on 14th Street, one of the last active links to the neighborhood’s 100 years as a slaughterhouse and meat wholesale center are gone forever. On this Forgotten NY page, we’ll show you the last vestiges of the Meatpacking District when blood, gristle and flesh caked its Belgian-blocked streets. And I’m not referring to the muggings.

Restaurateur Florent Morellet (who has been here since 1985, long before the cognoscenti arrived) provided a succinct history of this previously mysterious, shadowy area on the area’s official website:

The area began as a trading village for the Sapokanican, an Algonquin Indian tribe. After the famous sale of Manhattan Island for a few beads and bobbles, it became a Dutch tobacco plantation, then English farmland, before America built Fort Gansevoort to protect New York during the War of 1812. After the war, New York City began negotiations with John Jacob Astor, who owned most of the Gansevoort area, to purchase the underwater rights for the Hudson River. When the deal was complete, the shoreline, west of what is now Washington Street, was filled in, and became the terminus of the Hudson River Railroad. A farmers’ market emerged, taking advantage of the railroad and the ever-present ferries across the Hudson from New Jersey. In 1886, the city declared the area as a public market to ensure that they participated in the profits!

At the turn of the last century, with the advent of an underground brine-cooling system, the city market was able to sustain a safe meat-market. The buildings that were once dwellings, stores and warehouses were quickly transformed into meat businesses – the vestiges that we still see today. In the past few years, many of the meat businesses have relocated to the Bronx, but a variety of new businesses have replaced them, and adapted these remarkable, historic structures once again – so that the neighborhood retains a vibrant, 24-hour energy that defines Gansevoort as unique in New York City. Meat guys work next to famous retailers, restaurateurs, art galleries and production houses in a wonderful cycle that ensures there is always something for everyone in Gansevoort Market!

What Florent Morellet doesn’t say is that landlords have raised rents to the stratosphere, making it no longer feasible for many of the old meat marketers to remain in their traditional neighbohood, clustered along Washington, Gansevoort, Little West 12th and West 13th Streets. In the 1990s, restaurants, boutiques and galleries, who were more willing to pay NYC’s exorbitant real estate prices, gradually moved in and took over. Gay clubs had begun moving in as early as 1970, with the Zoo followed by the Mineshaft.

Your webmaster arrived in the area in mid-January 2006 after an absence of over a year, on one of the rare cold days in January. It was a day of bright sun, yet little light since the sun at its highest was only about halfway up to the zenith. Here, I photographed what I assume to be the last days of the region’s fading raison d’etre it joins in oblivion the now-deceased Fulton Fish Market Soho’s Machine District* Radio Row, Washington Market and Little Syria, razed for the World Trade Center between 1969 and 1973 and the Sewing Machine and Flower Districts of Sixth Avenue will also soon succumb. The Meatpacking District will be gone over the next decade. As I’ve said here before, sick transit, Gloria.

*this is a New York Times link the stingy Times removes free links after a few days, so it will probably require a fee for you to read it.

In an era when our 5 billion dollar mayor is firing factotums for having the audacity to take a break with solitaire from their exciting, fulfilling office jobs, and the middle class is running to the exits again, not from the tyranny of crime as they did in the 1960-1970s but from the tyranny of the wealthy in the 2000s, here are some of the last venues of actual work where cigarette breaks are not firing offenses.

Washington Street

Now a Meet locker, formerly a meat locker, Washington at Gansevoort (817). Jim Naureckas, in NY Songlines, claims this was a memorable scene-setter in Sex and the City, not that I’d know. I do see packed tour buses gingerly negotiating the Belgian blocks, stuffed with modern-day desperate housewives retracing the steps of the previous set of TV comediennes.

I dislike repeating photos, but I took this in 2001 just outside what is now Meet looking across Washington Street at Maggio Beef and the truncated end of the “High Line” railroad. Since then Maggio has closed it is planned to become the site of the Dia Museum when the High Line becomes a high-end, glitzy urban trail, if current plans are realized. Dia would also take over the Premier Veal building, which we will see presently.

Not only are the meat purveyors moving out…the art of handlettered signs is too. The old butcheries still feature a lot of them.

Hogs & Heifers Saloon (859) is also an area veteran making the transition from a primarily neighborhood crowd of meat cutters to a genuine tourist attraction.

Since Julia Roberts and other celebs discovered the place in the 90s, it’s been home to what some online reviewers disparagingly call a “bridge and tunnel” crowd, illustrating some New Yorkers’ intolerance for ‘inferior’ out-of-towners.

By 2006 Lamb Unlimited at 837 Washington was one of about twenty active meat businesses in the area, down from about 150 in the district’s heyday in the 1940s.

New boutiques along Washington between Gansevoort and Little West 12th.

As noted above, the old West Side Elevated Freight Railroad has been spared from demolition [and, by 2009, became a highly stylized urban trail.]

It would have been much better served as the home for a southern extension of the #7 Flushing Line as it is, billions of dollars will have to be spent to tunnel the line instead of simply running it above ground here.

Gansevoort Street

The street runs where old Fort Gansevoort, constructed for the War of 1812, was built. It was named for General Peter Gansevoort, one of Washington’s officers. Gansevoort was the grandfather of author Herman Melville–who worked on the docks here as a customs inspector in the later years of his life, believing that his work would be forgotten. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Cunningham(“The Hours”) has written that Gansevoort “is probably the only street in Manhattan, and maybe in the world, where you could procure, in one easy trip, a side of beef and a 1970’s sectional sofa in pristine condition.”

One legacy of the Meatpacking District is its sidewalk overhangs, which may be maintained by whatever businesses replace them. They do provide neeed shade in this tree-baren area especially on hot summer days. This building was built 1880-81 by John Glass Jr.

R&L Restaurant, opened in the 1920s at 69 Gansevoort, became Florent, named for its founder, in 1985. Florent has kept the 1942 vinyl and chrome exterior as well as much of its diner atmosphere within, while offering a menu that is a mix of American and French bistro fare. It has boisterous Bastille Day celebrations, with costumed wait staff as well as Florent himself, who may be seen in drag for the occasion.

North side of Gansevoort west of Greenwich. The lettering on the side of the building, at least the part I can make out, says “clam chowder,” “boullion” and New England buiscuit.”

Little West 12th Street

The naming of this street, which runs from the junction of Gansevoort and Greenwich Streets west to West Street, is a little complicated. Apparently the city was at a loss about what to call it in its early days in the 1830s and 40s when it was laid out. If you look at it on a map it occupies the same space where West 12th Street would logically be. However, it cannot be called West 12th Street, since West 12th turns southwest at Greenwich Avenue and also reaches West Street. (The original name of that stretch of West 12th was Troy Street, with the renaming taking place in the mid-1800s. For many years Little West 12th was shown on maps but without a name.

With the West 12th Street name already taken, the city at first called this now-orphaned two-block street North 12th (1870) but that didn’t really work. Instead of giving it a name it was decided to call it Little West 12th, and it starts appearing on maps by 1902. Two other streets in NYC have such a preface: Little Nassau Street in northern Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn and Little Clove Road in Sunnyside, Staten Island.

The junction of 9th Avenue, Gansevoort and Little West 12th Streets is one of NYC’s unique public spaces. Most of the MPD’s streets, for so ong sparsely trafficked, have retained their 1800s Belgian-block pavements, and the wide plaza formed by the junction provides “cobblestone” street enthusiasts with plenty of textured pavement.

[This spacious urban plaza has since been cluttered up with bollards and other traffic-calming foofaraw]

Till the early 2000s, the junction was also punctuated by one of NYC’s few remaining original Type G Corvington lampposts, although it was ‘defaced’ by a modern sodium lume for its last couple of decades. The post was listing badly by the time I snapped it in 2000, and it has now been replaced by a modern retro-Bishop Crook.

Forsythe Meats still holds down a place on Little West 12th across the street, you can still make out the word “meat” on an awning.

Ninth was the first avenue in New York City to get an elevated train, in 1870, and the el shadowed the MPD until 6/12/40. Unlike other north-south NYC avenues, which begin somewhat prestigiously (3rd, for example at Cooper Square and 5th at Washington Square) 9th begins rather anonymously, at the Belgian-blocked junction of Greenwich, Gansevoort and Little West 12th, and picks up traffic from Hudson Street when it reaches West 14th.

Long after the meatpackers leave, the Old Homestead Steak House at 9th and West 14th will probably remain as the sign says, it’s been in business since 1868. The Old Homestead introduced Kobe beef to the USA and offers a $41 Kobe hamburger. The Homestead has always finished below Peter Luger and other NYC steakhouses in the publicity game though.

Your webmaster will stick to the Gold Star Diner in Bayside. [I can’t anymore. It closed in 2011]

The new crossroads of the MPD, 9th and 14th. The old Nabisco factory, which has turned out thousands of Oreos in its time but is now the popular Chelsea Market, is in the background. RIGHT: sign on 9th between 14th and 15th.

10th Avenue

The odd street layout of the MPD makes for some interesting building plots that include a few triangle buildings, like the Liberty Inn at 10th and 11th Avenues and West 14th Street. The Liberty was once a hot sheet locale.

The NYC DOT still dutifully marks the dwindling meat market area.

The rusted facade of Pier 54, a former White Star-Cunard berth. In 1912 the Titanic was due to dock at nearby Pier 58.

West 14th Street

In 1988 the AIA Guide to New York was describing a Frank’s Restaurant on 431 West 14th Street between 9th and 10th:

Don’t tell them you knew Frank…the founder forgets how the restaurant first was named but he’s certain the founder’s name wasn’t Frank. Sawdust. Tile floors. Dark woodwork. Tin ceilings. Steaks, chops, etc. In the wee hours it’s still frequented by meat market workers. See for yourself.

I miss the place and I never got near it. (It has actually moved to 410 West 16th, exactly 2 blocks north of where it was it had opened on 14th in 1912. I’ll have to see if they retained the sawdust.)

Western Beef on West 14th just west of 9th, the last big supermarket in the MPD, was scheduled to close in early 2006, passing the torch to the end of an era and all cliches in between.

Former area resident (now in Nyons, France) Patricia Fieldsteel, writing inThe Villager, remembers the unique vibe:

There were open white-plastic barrels of pig ears and snouts in brine: 10 and 20-gallon jugs of pork bellies and carpet-sized rolls of tripe. You needed a strong constitution to shop at Western Beef, which originally was a warehouse where one walked into a glacial auditorium-sized freezer with entire cow, hog and sheep carcasses hanging from hooks on the ceiling… anyone who wanted to become a vegetarian only needed to go in their meat department and they would be cured forever of eating meat.

…a field day for cultural anthropologists with its ham hocks, pig snouts, cow hearts, sheep brains and turkey butts — where else could you buy a yellow styrofoam tray of 12 enormous pope’s noses (chicken tails) for 99 cents?

Toward the western end of West 14th, under the railroad bridge, a few meat wholesalers are hanging on or did till recently.

Stella McCartney, the designing daughter of Beatle Paul, was an early fashion ‘pioneer’ in the MPD, but the veteran Diane von Furstenberg is coming on strong at Washington and 14th.

Surprisingly, tucked away on West 14th between 9th and Washington under the ubiquitous sidewalk overhangs is the Ground Zero Museum Workshop, which describes its mission thusly:

To raise awareness of the heroic efforts of the Ground Zero Recovery workers through the exhibition of Gary Marlon Suson’s photographic collection

To utilize the Ground Zero Recovery Collection by way of image sales for the purpose of supporting six worthwhile and needy charities

To educate students about the true impact of terrorism by viewing the collection

To help people connect on a deeper level to both the tragedy and heroism that September 11 was comprised of by viewing items/artifacts recovered from the rubble of Ground Zero

To honor the men and women who lost their lives on September 11

To provide an emotionally safe place for the children of 9/11 victims to come, in their own time, to view the collection & summarily understand exactly what went on during the Recovery Period at Ground Zero

In light of the fact that there will be no Museum at Ground Zero for many years to come, this project will immediately provide the public with a permanent museum that serves as a home for the Ground Zero Recovery Collection

Call for hours and reservations at 212-802-7197.

West 15th Street

We’re on the northern limits of Meat-opolis here but I thought I’d show you this marvelous old pedestrian bridge spanning West 15th, west of 9th Avenue between the Nabisco Building and its facing building across the street. I’d like to know the story about this bridge, which looks as if it’s been here for a few decades at least.

Question settled by Christopher Gray, who else…from “From Oreos and Mallomars to Today’s Chelsea Market, ” New York Times on August 7, 2005:

“In 1913, [architect] Zimmerman designed the most prominent building in the complex, the 11-story full-block structure from 10th to 11th Avenue and 15th to 16th Street. It was built on landfill – the timbers, chain and anchor of a two-masted schooner were found during excavation.

National Biscuit also acquired outlying property, like the old American Can Company building at 447 West 14th Street. That structure extends through to the south side of 15th Street, and National Biscuit erected a pedestrian bridge to join it with the main complex on the north side of 15th Street. Designed by a later company architect, James Torrance, it has a somewhat classical character and looks to be made of lead-coated copper…”

Pier 54: The Fire

This photograph shows a ship narrowly escaping the Pier 54 conflagration. (Rickwood Collection)

Thick, dense smoke pours out of the fire engulfing Pier 54 while onlookers stand on the fantail of a White Star liner, likely the Olympic. (Rickwood Collection)

Pier 54 was destroyed on Friday, May 6, 1932, in a five-alarm fire that was fought by land-based firemen and six fireboats along the waterfront. The conflagration started at about 8:00 a.m. that morning, in some rubbish underneath the pier. The watchman who found it tried to stop the fire by hand and failed miserably. As the flames spread, a regular fire alarm was not turned in promptly, and Cunard employees rushed to carry furniture and paperwork out of the building, with damp handkerchiefs over their faces for protection from the smoke. By the time the first few companies had arrived on the scene, the fire was totally out of control, and some 700 firemen were engaged in the battle. They fought for hours although they soon realized that they could not save the $2,000,000 pier or the $100,000-plus worth of cargo sitting in it, they tried to prevent the other structures nearby from being engulfed in the flames.

Smoke ascends into the sky from burning Pier 54. (Rickwood Collection)

One person was killed and dozens of firemen were injured. A nearby building caught fire and was destroyed, and the fire also tried to reach the piers to the north and south of 54. That evening, the burned out wreckage of Pier 54 collapsed into the Hudson.

These three photographs from the Rickwood Collection show the scene as the pier was burning, as photographed from the stern of the White Star liner Olympic. That famous liner would sail later in the day for Europe. The views look south, down the river (apparently from White Star’s Pier 59). The French Line piers between are visible.

The Cunard Line had to scramble to obtain other facilities for the use of its liners while they called at New York. Eventually, Pier 54 was completely rebuilt – so well, in fact, that in later years it hardly looked any different from the original structure which had been so completely destroyed on that May day in 1932.

The re-built Pier 54 remained in use until Cunard’s main terminus was moved upriver. As the years went by, Pier 54 fell into disrepair. The pier just to the north has been demolished, leaving only wooden piles as a reminder of where it once jutted into the Hudson (North) River. Finally, the Pier 54 building itself was removed, leaving behind a blank concrete pier with only the building’s front frame left behind.

It was during this period that I made my one and only visit to the pier. While I was there, I managed to capture a number of photographs, which can be found below.

Pier 54 is located at the foot of Spring Street. [1] The current dock for the fireboats of the Seattle Fire Department is located immediately to the south of Pier 54. Pier 55 is the next pier to the north.

Pier 3 measured 300 by 150 feet (91 by 46 m), and had a cargo warehouse measuring 284 by 130 feet (87 by 40 m) with a storage capacity of 10,000 tons. There were two spur railway tracks on the pier. Depth of water at the pier was 25 to 40 feet (7.6 to 12.2 m). [1]

Starting in 1900, Pier 3 was leased by Galbraith, Bacon & Co. The principals of this firm were James Galbraith and Cecil Bacon. They were wholesale dealers in grain, hay, plaster, concrete, and building materials. [2] [3] In 1910, the pier narrowly escaped destruction in the Belltown fire, although the nearby Galbraith, Bacon warehouse was destroyed. [2]

In 1917, like Pier 1 and Pier 2, Seattle, Pier 3 was owned by the Northern Pacific Railway.

Pier 3 was the terminal for Island Transportation Co., Merchants Transportation Co., Puget Sound Naval Station Route, Kitsap County Transportation Co., Pollard Steamship. Co., and other Puget Sound local shipping lines. [1] The Kitsap County Transportation Company, run by James Galbraith's son Walter Galbraith, competed against the Puget Sound Navigation Company running from the Colman Dock. As such it was home pier for wooden steamships such as the Kitsap, the Utopia, the Reliance and the Hyak. [4] Other Puget Sound steamers known to have called at Pier 3 included Magnolia, Mohawk, Florence K, Dode, and Monticello 2. [3] [5] Pier 3 was within walking distance of Pike Place Market where much of the local groceries brought in by the steamers were sold. Typically this would have been done by the farmers themselves or their wives, who would ride the steamers into Pier 3 in the morning and depart in the evening. Live hens, slaughtered poultry, eggs, milk in galvanized cans, sacks of potatoes, rhubarb in bundles and fruit in crates. Dockside travel facilities offered few comforts then, but Pier 3 was one of the first to offer a small waiting room. [3]

From 1929 to the mid-1930s Pier 3 was general headquarters for Gorst Air Transport, who operated a seaplane service from there, using Keystone-Loening planes. They also operated out of Bremerton across the Sound. Through this period, the Northern Pacific still owned the pier, but by 1944 the Washington Fish and Oyster Company (now Ocean Beauty Seafoods) had purchased the pier and was its main tenant. Engineering firm Reese and Callender Associates helped them reinforce the pier and to adapt it to its new use. [4]

In 1938 Ivar Haglund rented the northeast corner of the pier shed for a one-room aquarium, which included a small fish and chips stand, later known as Ivar's Acres of Clams. [2] The aquarium closed around 1945, at which time the restaurant moved to the southeastern corner and was redesigned in Streamline Moderne style. [4] [6]

During World War Two, Pier 3 was renumbered as Pier 54. [2] In June 1966 Haglund bought Pier 54 for $500,000. [7] Washington Fish and Oyster Company then became Haglund's tenant. The restaurant was repeatedly redesigned and expanded over the years, achieving more or less its present configuration before Haglund's death in 1985. [4]

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