Volume 78 - Number 50 / May 20 - 26 , 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photo courtesy Hudson River Park

Pier 64, at left, in the new Chelsea Cove section of Hudson River Park

From ’80s dream, pier’s a reality for advocate, 80

By Patrick Hedlund

The first of a trio of renovated piers in Chelsea, Pier 64, recently opened to the public, marking the halfway point for construction of the 5-mile-long Hudson River Park.

The Michael Van Valkenburgh-designed pier, between 24th and 26th Sts., juts 500 feet out into the Hudson River, with open seating, sloping lawns and English oak trees lining the pier’s length.

“Each addition to Hudson River Park makes this magnificent treasure an even greater gift to our city and state,” said Diana Taylor, chairperson of the Hudson River Park Trust, the city-state public authority that oversees construction of the park, in a statement. “It is thrilling to witness the continued construction progress as the park becomes a beautiful finished product.” 

Pier 64 is one of three piers that will make up the Chelsea section of Hudson River Park, also known as Chelsea Cove. The two others, Piers 62 and 63, are currently under construction and scheduled to open next year. When complete, Chelsea’s waterfront parkland will include more than 9 acres.

Villager photo by Patrick Hedlund
Robert Trentlyon showed some original renderings for the Chelsea park and piers dating back to the 1980s.

Robert Trentlyon, founder of the Chelsea Waterside Park Association, has spent more than two decades working to realize the piers’ redevelopment. Ahead of Pier 64’s official opening, he gave a reporter a walking tour of it on April 23 — the date of Trentlyon’s 80th birthday, no less — reminiscing on the many years he spent advocating for public open space on the waterfront.

“I said, ‘Where can we put a park?’” Trentlyon explained, remembering the time in the mid-’80s when Chelsea had only 7.5 acres total of parkland, and the city started exploring what could be done with the waterfront after abandoning Westway, a megaplan for the West Side Highway.

So, he set out with likeminded advocates Edward Kirkland and Dorris Corrigan, and elected officials state Senator Franz Leichter, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and District Leader Thomas Duane.

“All of us have been working on this since ’86,” Trentlyon noted. (Indeed, more than 20 years later, Leichter is now a member of the Trust’s board of directors, Gottfried still holds his Assembly post and Duane is the district’s state senator.)

Back then, Trentlyon ran into landscape architect Thomas Balsley, who later designed the Chelsea Waterside Park. They spent time brainstorming on what could be done with the waterfront space, and Balsley would come back with renderings based on what Trentlyon and the others were considering.

“I instantly fell in love with the language of landscape architects,” said Trentylon, who was then editor in chief of the community newspaper The Chelsea-Clinton News. “We had fun.”

Former state Senator Fred Orenstein then recommended to Governor Mario Cuomo that Trentlyon be appointed to the West Side Task Force, which had been set up to address what could be developed in place of the failed Westway highway-and-landfill project.

“They agreed that there should be a park on the West Side,” Trentylon said. “There had been a lot of discussion of apartment houses on the piers.”

Later, Trentlyon and others would fight to get Community Board 4 and the Hudson River Park’s governing body to agree that the massive pier shed covering Pier 64 needed to be removed for the park’s construction, eventually winning support to develop the pier as passive recreational space.

Reflecting on the landscape he helped create, Trentlyon referenced a classic movie by renowned Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, in which the main character realizes his dying wish to turn a rundown cesspool into a children’s playground.

“I think they’ve done a beautiful job,” he said of the finished product.

How’s that for a birthday present?

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