Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The High Line Hotel

  Choosing a place to stay can be is often the most overwhelming choice facing visitors to New York City. There are almost 500 hotels in NYC listed on Tripadvisor. And while that provides a lot of options, it also means a confounding choice. Most of the hotels in the city are perfectly nice stays. Standards are high and clean rooms, good service, and convenient locations are the norm. Also normal is small rooms and high prices.
   So how to choose? The vast majority of the hotels are located in the Midtown business district, which is where many of the famous sights in New York are located. But, I prefer staying in one of the residential neighborhoods of the city. These are the districts of tree-lined streets filled with old brownstones, of high-end coffee bars and working class diners, of local pubs, and casual restaurants. These are the kind of places that make a stay special, where you can really feel the soul of New York. Where you can relax at the end of a day touring or get started in the morning. Plus the residential neighborhoods aren't overcrowded at rush hour and empty on late nights and weekends like Midtowns office blocks. So let me offer you one of my favorite places to stay outside of Midtown, in Chelsea at the High Line Hotel

   The High Line Hotel is located in one of the former buildings of their neighbor, the General Theological Seminary. The Seminary's history is intricately tied with the neighborhood of Chelsea. In 1800, the area was still dominated by the country estate of Captain Thomas Clarke, who owned the land between today's 8th and 10th Avenues and 28th and 20th Streets. The estate was dominated by a grand country home, and the estate was named Chelsea, after the district in London. After Clarke's death in 1802, the southern portion of the estate passed to his daughter Charity Clarke and her husband Benjamin Moore. Moore has no relation to the paint store of the same name, but he was a prominent religious man who served as the Episcopal Bishop of New York and as President of Columbia College.
   Their son, Clement Clarke Moore would take over the land in 1813 and become the driving force in creating the neighborhood that exists today. By dividing up the land and selling genteel townhouses throughout the 1830s, he created the stately blocks of Chelsea that still stand. But first, he was instrumental in creating the General Theological Seminary. In 1817, one year after Benjamin Moore's death, Trinity Church and the Episcopal Diocese chartered a new seminary in New York City to serve the whole Episcopal Church. It was Clement Clarke Moore who donated his apple orchard in Chelsea to build the new seminary, and the first building went up in 1827. If the name Clement Clarke Moore seems familiar to you, it is because he is most famous for creating the poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," better known as "T'was the Night Before Christmas." By virtue of writing that poem, he is almost singlehandedly responsible for creating modern Christmas in America.
   The seminary still stands and still educates young religious scholars on West 20th Street. But the school has been losing money, and has turned to Manhattan's lucrative real estate development to raise cash. They have taken some of their buildings to allow condo development, but the old West Building dorm has been converted to the High Line Hotel, and it makes for a magnificent setting. The building is a beautiful gothic/academic style and so much of the original details have been kept. There is stained glass throughout the common areas. Rooms have their original mantles, though the fireplaces don't work anymore. Even the furnishings and fixtures have been selected to evoke an earlier time. You still feel a bit like a seminarian when you walk in the room. Except for the luxurious bedding, of course. The hotel also has converted the open space in front of the building to an outdoor cafe, with the coffee served inside by intelligentsia, or outside from their retro coffee truck.

Old details in one of the High Line Hotels standard rooms
    But the best thing about the hotel is its location. Instead of being in Times Square, accosted by tourism touts every time you step out the door, you are in one of New York's great neighborhoods. There are cool shops and designer boutiques nearby. Chelsea Market is only 4 blocks away for an amazing food experience. And the High Line Park, New York's new elevated park built onto an old railroad structure, is right across the street from the hotel. It is one of the most vibrant and fascinating districts in New York. This is one of my favorite hotels in the city for a unique stay in a great location.

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