Grit and Glamour Rediscovering the Meatpacking District

New Yorkers pride themselves on their ability to appreciate places and things that others often find dirty, oppressive, or just plain ugly. New York City itself is occasionally accused of being all three, yet New Yorkers remain fiercely loyal in defending their city against such slurs–after all, anybody who can’t see the beauty and glamour of Gotham through the haze of pollution, the din of traffic, and the crush of frenzied humanity just doesn’t get New York City. Those who do get it, however, can find beauty in the most unlikely places–and if they can’t find beauty, by heaven–they’ll at least find real estate. Nowhere is this more evident than in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, or MePa, as some brokers insist it’s becoming known. In the last 20 years, the neighborhood has gone from being a no-man’s land of drugs, filth, and abandoned warehouses to being some of the most sought-after real estate in the city.

Carcasses and Cobblestones

The Meatpacking District is a tiny enclave on Manhattan’s west side between the West Village and Chelsea. The area is only four blocks deep, bordered by the Hudson River on the west, 14th Street to the north, Ninth Avenue to the east, and the hard-to-find, hard-to-say Gansevoort Street to the south.

The district’s buildings are large and low–mostly cavernous, late 19th-century warehouses of red and brown brick, punctuated by soot-blackened windows and tangles of ductwork and drainage pipes. High-rises to the north and east cast long shadows across the narrow streets, many of which are paved with cobblestones laid down in the days when dozens of meat-cutting and processing plants were clustered along the Hudson.

From the turn of the century until the first World War, more than 100 meat wholesalers, packers, and cutters worked the district. As time passed, however, the nation’s economy shifted, and the chain of supply and demand that kept the meatpacking plants in business began to shorten. Refrigerated trucking and the further consolidation of the pasture-to-table process silenced dozens of meat-workers. By the late 1960s, the actual meatpacking plants and working warehouses left in the Meatpacking District had declined by nearly half–and the area went from being oppressive and distasteful to being straight-up dangerous.

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