Written by Zoe Potter
I fell in love with Chelsea on my second day in New York. In fact, I fell in love with New York when I was in Chelsea, walking the High Line in fall. This was the New York that excited me, a place of urban innovation, a mixing of old and new, brave, bold, different.
Beside the Hudson River on the west side of downtown Manhattan, Chelsea’s boundaries are 14th Street to the south, 34th Street to the north and 6th Avenue to the east.
Bordered by the Flatiron District, NoMad to the east, Hell’s Kitchen to the north, and Meatpacking District, Greenwich Village and West Village to the south, Chelsea is a short walk from the delights of downtown, without the exorbitant rents, and it’s close to Midtown but still feels like a residential neighbourhood. With the luxury of two subway lines, on 7th and 8th Avenues, it’s easy to get uptown, downtown and across town to Brooklyn and Queens.
The neighbourhood has all the best attributes of New York: a great vibe, plenty of nightlife, dozens and dozens of restaurants from casual eats to Michelin stars, and every amenity you need within a one block radius.
Chelsea’s unique style, derived from its industrial past and the dramatic renaissance the area has undergone in recent years, sets it apart from other neighbourhoods.
It began with art
From the 1990s, art galleries drawn to Chelsea by cheap rents drove the area’s resurgence. Chelsea is the centre of New York’s art world with over 200 galleries in west Chelsea, many of which occupy converted factories and warehouse spaces.
A neighbourhood transformed
A series of projects completed in the past 20 years have transformed neglected vestiges of a manufacturing past into innovative public spaces. The adjacent Meatpacking District has undergone a similar metamorphosis from a leftover manufacturing district home to drug dealing and other illicit activities to a vibrant centre of high-end fashion, dining and nightlife.
An old biscuit factory
The Chelsea Market opened in 1997 in the refurbished former Nabisco factory which once produced Oreo cookies. Occupying a whole block on the corner of 9th Avenue and 15th Street, the steampunk interior design retained the feel of the old industrial site, with artefacts from its past life strewn about in between the gourmet food stores and restaurants which now attract millions of visitors every year.
An old railway
The High Line is the star of Chelsea’s post-industrial revitalisation, attracting nearly five million visitors each year and amplifying the neighbourhood’s gentrification. The disused elevated railway was redesigned and planted, opening in 2009 as a 1.45 mile long park and walkway which runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to 34th Street. The project recalls the park’s former use by displaying old railway tracks and uses vegetation inspired by plants that grew on the abandoned tracks. Rolling sun loungers made from parts of the old railway look out across the Hudson – you have to be quick to get one of these on a sunny afternoon.
A new home for the Whitney
Capitalising on the High Line’s popularity, the Whitney Museum of American Art moved to its new location at the southern entrance to the High Line. Designed by Renzo Piano and built at a cost of $422 million, the new building opened on 1 May 2015. The collection includes works by Edward Hopper, Willem de Kooning , Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol and Georgia O’Keeffe.
A new hotel
The Standard Hotel was built over the High Line in 2009, adopting a gritty design to reflect the industrial feel of the area. The rooftop bar, Le Bain, has breathtaking views of downtown Manhattan and the Hudson River. The Standard was the scene of the infamous elevator incident between Solange Knowles and Jay-Z in May 2014.
These days the Standard is more famous than the neighbourhood’s original grande-dame, the Chelsea Hotel on 23rd Street where Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jack Kerouc penned On the Road, and where a who’s who of the twentieth centuries’ artists, writers and musicians resided at various times.
A place to play
The Chelsea Piers were once the city’s premier passenger ship terminal – it was here that the Titanic was scheduled to dock in 1912. As times changed the piers were used as cargo terminals and then fell into disuse. Reborn in 1995 as a huge sports and entertainment complex, the piers now offer everything from swimming pools to year round ice skating rinks to a golf driving range. It also has the Frying Pan, a lighthouse boat retrieved from the bottom of a river and resurrected into a floating bar.
An urban oasis
The Hudson River Park extends from Battery Park up to 59th Street, incorporating reclaimed piers, sporting fields, green spaces and pedestrian and bicycle paths. The great wide expanse of water and sky and the sunset view across to New Jersey are the perfect escape from the pressure of the city streets.
Chelsea’s dynamic past and evolving present make the neighbourhood an exciting place to call home. Old is interwoven with new, gritty adjoins shiny, and the result is a neighbourhood that is fast-paced and friendly, eclectic and alive, and full of character, culture and cool.
So, if it’s been a while, or if it’s your first time, jump on the A, C, E, 1, 2 or 3 and visit Chelsea.
Photo credit: Zoe Potter