The New York Times
August 1, 2012
By STEVEN KURUTZ
VISITORS to the High Line often marvel at the panorama the elevated park affords: open-sky views across the Hudson River, an unbroken sightline up 10th Avenue to Midtown and beyond. But in recent months, in a section of the High Line around 23rd Street, a more intimate, domestic cityscape has emerged.
Where the park widens to form a seating area with bleachers and a lush lawn, several apartment buildings rise up and enclose the space on either side. Three are newly constructed glass and steel towers that just began filling with residents, and the most prominent of them, the architect Neil M. Denari’s sleek HL23, is so close it’s as if parkgoers could walk right into one of the multimillion-dollar apartments.
Pierre Salamon, who lives in the Marais, another building rising above this section of the park, called it “a secret new city waiting to be discovered.” It makes him feel, he said, “like I’ve arrived in another dimension of Chelsea … I slow down on purpose to retain that feeling.”
Annik La Farge, who wrote a book about the park called “On the High Line,” looks onto this section from her office and living room windows in the Spears Building. The space is made more striking, she said, by the narrow, forested path that precedes it, known as the Chelsea Thicket. “Horticulturally, the area goes from dense, shady thicket to open, sunny lawn,” Ms. La Farge said. “And in more human terms, it goes from a very private space to a very, very public one.”
Walking this neighborhood in the sky is like finding yourself in a mash-up of “Blade Runner” and “Rear Window.” The thrill isn’t the wide angle, but the close-up, being at eye level with high-rise apartments and the people inside them. Like the hulking, metal-sheathed 245 Tenth, an 11-story co-op designed by the Brooklyn-based architects Jared Della Valle and Andrew Bernheimer: on a recent evening, a couple rested among moving boxes inside their new third-floor apartment there, obviously exhausted, in full view of passers-by.
Just a few steps down the High Line is Ten23, another glass building, which opened along this section of the park in January. In one west-facing corner unit, a mod-looking candy-red chair was displayed prominently in the window, as if this weren’t an apartment, but a store or a design studio.
While casual voyeurism along the High Line (the “ ‘Pry’ Line,” as The New York Post dubbed it) has been going on since the park opened three years ago, the residents of new buildings like HL23, Ten23 and 245 Tenth are different from earlier High Line dwellers in at least one respect: they moved here knowing their homes would be among the most exposed in the city.
Moreover, the cutting-edge architecture, the bleachers and lawn, and colorful metal “Urban Rattle” sculpture by the artist Charlie Hewitt, installed in May in the courtyard of Ten23, have all made this section of the High Line a popular gathering spot.
Thousands of people go by these apartments every day, and no doubt wonder who lives in them. But what do the residents see? What is life like on the other side of the glass?
We talked to people who live in HL23, Ten23 and 245 Tenth, and two other buildings, the Spears Building and the Marais, which predate the High Line but are integral to the skyline of this section of the park.
HL23: LIVING A PRIVATE-PUBLIC LIFE
When Mr. Denari began designing this 14-story apartment building, he decided early on to integrate the park instead of turning away from it. “There’s a public aspect to HL23,” the architect said. “I’ve never tried to be recalcitrant or not address the opportunity.” Indeed, the south-facing facade resembles the windshield of an enormous sports car.
As for the apartments on the lower floors, which are the most exposed to parkgoers, Mr. Denari said he imagined they would attract New Yorkers who welcomed what he called “a private-public discourse.” As he put it, “People who live on the lower floors are probably not eccentric recluses looking for a haven.”
That describes Kerry Propper and Katya Valevich, who moved into an apartment on one of the midlevel floors in January.
Mr. Propper, 37, a chief executive of a small investment bank and a human-rights activist, said he bought the 2,500-square-foot unit after a long hunt, because it felt as if it was not so much above the High Line as on it.
“You know the grass right outside?” he said. “You feel like you’re on that lawn.”
Ms. Valevich, 25, who works for Artinfo.com, said she is accordingly taking a performance-art-like approach to decorating. In the living room, for instance, she hung an elegant white and gold chandelier above the elm-wood dining table, she said, knowing it would be visible to anyone on the High Line.
“They can definitely see us if they look,” she said. “Why not try to give our apartment character?”
Mr. Propper and Ms. Valevich are taking a similar approach to hanging art. She pointed to a spot against the wall where a Dustin Yellin sculpture will soon go, backlighted for everyone below. “If we can show an artist to four million people, why not?” she said.
When they want privacy, they lower the blinds or hang out in a TV area they created in a part of the apartment that isn’t visible from outside. Otherwise, Mr. Propper likes watching the High Line from a small north-facing window, though he still finds it “pretty odd” when people wave at him. Ms. Valevich uses the V-shaped support beams in the living room as a perch.
Asked if she was bothered by the human parade outside, she said: “I wouldn’t call it a parade. It’s more like a stream of water.”
She added: “I have no problem living in this bubble. It’s the best bubble.”
THE SPEARS BUILDING: LEARNING NOT TO LOOK
Unless you pitch a tent on the lawn, it is not possible to live closer to the High Line than Tim Saternow and his partner, Craig Harwood, do. The eastern wall of their loft-like apartment backs onto the park, and only a wall of brick separates them from people lounging on wooden bleachers outside. When a busker recently set up there, the couple could hear the vigorous drum jam outside their kitchen window.
Yet on a recent afternoon, there was tranquil silence as Mr. Saternow, 51, an artist who paints moody watercolors of the High Line, and Mr. Harwood, a screenwriter who is also 51, welcomed a visitor. Through two huge windows in the living area, the park and its visitors could be seen opaquely, their shapes and colors distorted as in a funhouse mirror.
Before this section of the High Line opened, the couple, who have lived here for eight years, followed the advice of an architect and installed glass brick in the windows, which were once loading bays for the former factory building. “It was the perfect solution,” Mr. Saternow said, explaining that the glass is soundproof and lets in light but not prying eyes.
In other parts of the apartment, the couple has played up their vantage on the High Line, especially in Mr. Harwood’s north-facing office. His desk is perched right over the park, and on some evenings, parkgoers can watch him typing. “We designed it that way,” Mr. Saternow said. “We knew it would be the best view in the house.”
But the glare from the sun creates a natural blind during the day. In fact, standing in Mr. Harwood’s office and looking out at the people on the High Line, one has the odd sensation of invading their privacy. They take pictures or lie on the grass, unaware that someone is watching from behind the sun-darkened window.
Mr. Saternow said he has developed a casual, if somewhat contradictory, approach that one hopes those on the High Line also follow: “You sort of look and don’t look.”
245 TENTH: HOW LOW CAN YOU GO?
Benjamin and Michele Yogel don’t have the bedroom with the best view in their fifth-floor west-facing apartment. That distinction belongs to their 2-year-old daughter, Penelope, who enjoys a Technicolor shot down the High Line from her corner room.
“My daughter looks out the window and waves to everyone,” said Mr. Yogel, 34, a private equity manager who moved here in March with his family not because of the High Line, but because of the proximity to Avenues: The World School, a private school in Chelsea that his 4-year-old son, Oliver, attends.
Still, the Yogels, who once lived in an apartment facing a brick wall, realize that their new home is special. “The people who walk by think this is the most amazing place to live,” said Ms. Yogel, 33.
But an apartment on one of the lower floors, Mr. Yogel said, “would be too much for us.”
He added, “If I’m watching TV on a random Saturday, I don’t want a tourist looking in.”
Indeed, the west-facing apartment on the second floor, which may have the least-private private terrace in the city, is still on the market, said Matthew Amico, a vice president at Prudential Douglas Elliman, the agency representing the building. As he put it, “It’s reality-TV living.”
The windows facing the park were interspersed with reflective metal panels to camouflage them, said Mr. Bernheimer, one of the building’s architects. But when it comes to privacy, he added, “those units at the level of the High Line are difficult.”
The west-facing apartment on the third floor, however, sold in May, and the new owners appear ready for life in the fishbowl.
“We’re not afraid,” said S. J. Zaremba, 43, looking out his window one recent evening.
His pregnant girlfriend, Sarah Mackie, 41, due to deliver soon, added, “Neither of us is very modest.”
The couple is still settling in, and surprisingly haven’t made it a priority to buy blinds for the living room, which is almost at eye level with the High Line. “We’re immersing ourselves,” Mr. Zaremba said jokingly.
They moved here from Battery Park City, drawn by the greenery. “It’s like having a backyard, but we don’t have to mow the High Line,” he said. “There’s nothing like this view in the city.”
That’s true. They recently watched a jogger do deep knee bends outside their window.
But while Mr. Zaremba and Ms. Mackie enjoy living beside the High Line, like the Yogels, they can’t see themselves going any lower. Pointing down at the unit below them, which has a terrace that parkgoers could almost jump into, Ms. Mackie said, “That apartment has no privacy.”
TEN23: LIFE IN THE FISHBOWL
Some of the apartments at Ten23, a 12-story rental building that opened in January, are so close to the High Line that the tenants can “hand out ice pops,” joked Faryd Marin, the building’s senior leasing consultant. But even the units set back from the park are easy to see into. The residents in these west-facing apartments have had varying reactions to life in a fishbowl.
David Farhi, 25, a gallery owner who rents a 10th-floor unit, said he performed a test before moving in. “I realized the High Line was really close,” he said. “So I went down at several times of the day and looked up at my apartment.” He was relieved that he “couldn’t really see in.”
Alexander Bank, 25, a real estate agent on the fourth floor, with “one of the windows everyone can see into,” he said, has become much tidier since moving in five months ago. “Whenever I have my blinds open,” he said, “I make sure my apartment looks pristine.”
And Maribel Mireles, whose second-floor apartment and outdoor patio are just below the High Line, has learned not to sun herself in a bathing suit, because she may wind up on someone’s Tumblr feed.
“It’s like a constant Habitrail of people,” Ms. Mireles said, referring to the crowds that stop to see the “Urban Rattle” sculpture. “Ever since they put in that installation, a lot of people stop to take pictures.”
Although Ms. Mireles, who runs a fashion showroom, finds the crowds “a little bit annoying” (especially when they bait her dog, Rocco), she understands the impulse to gawk. She likened this section of the High Line to the beautiful town houses in the West Village. “You can’t help but look inside, because they’re so pretty,” she said. “You know you’re infringing on someone’s privacy, though you don’t mean to.”
Ms. Mireles’s favorite time is the early morning, when the park is empty and the residents have it to themselves. But she knows the High Line belongs to everyone, and that the crowds give something back to the residents. “It’s nice when you have people and energy around you,” she said.
THE MARAIS: TO SEE AND BE SEEN
Sometimes, Patrick Proctor feels like the Invisible Man.
Mr. Proctor’s apartment has a south-facing balcony that hangs suspended over the High Line railing, within spitting distance of parkgoers. Across the way is Mr. Saternow’s and Mr. Harwood’s apartment; directly below is his building’s back patio.
“I’ve been out there reading, and people on the High Line will lean over and look down on that backyard,” said Mr. Proctor, 33, a software developer who moved into the building last fall. “They’re six feet from me and don’t look at me. It’s almost like they don’t perceive that I’m there.”
But Mr. Proctor is an alert witness to life on the High Line. From his balcony, he has watched a surf film projected onto a wall across from the bleachers and has seen teenagers sneak into the park after hours. This past spring, he even saw a live sex show.
It was Mother’s Day, Mr. Proctor explained, and he and his mother and girlfriend were drinking wine and relaxing on the balcony. Over on the lawn, a couple was making out.
“I said to my girlfriend, ‘These people are having sex,’ ” Mr. Proctor recalled. “She says, ‘No, you’re crazy.’ The wind blows off their blanket, the woman isn’t wearing pants and, yes, in fact, these people are having sex.” Mr. Proctor scared them away by threatening to call the police.
A few stories up, Mr. Salamon witnessed a tamer display of affection from his eighth-floor balcony: a wedding proposal. “There was a ring protected by a glass similar to the kind you would see in a museum,” Mr. Salamon said. “It was very well staged.”
Mr. Salamon, 42, bought his apartment with his partner two years ago, before this section of the High Line was finished. A former city planner turned corporate brand manager, he watched with interest as workers laid down irrigation tubes and layered in soil. More recently, he saw the installation of Mr. Hewitt’s sculpture, “Urban Rattle.”
“If I work from home, I sit on the balcony and love watching the people pass by,” he said.
Although he doesn’t communicate with his neighbors in the surrounding buildings, Mr. Salamon believes they share an unspoken bond. “We’re ‘Rear Window’ High Line residents,” he said. “It gives us something in common.”