Photos by Emma Kazaryan
The Meatpacking District runs from Gansevoort Street to 14th Street and from the Hudson River to Hudson Street on Manhattan’s West Side. While geographically small, the neighborhood embodies vast historical, architectural and stylistic diversity.
The profusion of luxury retailers, nightclubs and restaurants among the old-fashioned cobblestone streets and derelict buildings make for a neighborhood with a unique atmosphere. However, the Meatpacking District was not always lush with Manhattanites looking to shop and dine by day and party and dance through the night.
After the Civil War, the neighborhood experienced major development from heavy industry to meat, poultry and fish markets, as well as dairy production and refrigeration. By the 1940s, more than 250 slaughterhouses were in the area known as the Gansevoort Market. Those houses produced the nation’s third-largest volume of dressed meat and as a result, the neighborhood became the “Meatpacking District.”
In late 1960s, the market’s prime Hudson River waterfront location was not modernized and could not compete with the rise of containerized shipping that uses locations in Brooklyn and New Jersey. The growth of supermarkets and home freezers also contributed to the decline of the Meatpacking District and led to another shift in 1980s.
The desolate neighborhood soon became the center of drug dealing and prostitution. Sex shops and homosexual clubs moved into abandoned warehouses. In the 1990s, as the rents in the West Village went up, the residents of that area moved up to the Meatpacking District, which was far less expensive due to its reputation.
Young professionals, fashionistas and gallerinas filled the streets of the district, as the abandoned warehouses were replaced by designer boutiques, world-class galleries, high-end restaurants and upscale clubs. From that time, the neighborhood changed its look and activity without surrendering all of its historic character.
Although the commercial climate of the neighborhood has changed, 36 meatpacking companies remain and continue to supply meat to New York City hotels and restaurants. However, as the Whitney Museum’s newest building moves in next to the Gansevoort Market, the meat purveyors are at risk of vanishing from the Meatpacking District.
For the time being, meatpacking occurs from 3 a.m. to 11 a.m., overlapping with daytime shopping, lunch service and office activity from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., which transitions to dinner and nightlife from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m.. The Meatpacking District may be gentrified, but a balanced 24-hour ecosystem persists within the walls of the old warehouses.