A Day at the Beach

Gansevoort Peninsula Beach and Park Opens

By John Hill

On October 2nd the Hudson River Park Trust opened the long awaited park and beach at Gansevoort Peninsula, just below 14th Street on the Hudson River. Once the site of an incinerator, and then a parking lot for sanitation trucks, litigation by Al Butzel and the Friends of Hudson Rover Park forced the Sanitation Department off the peninsula (it is land, not a pier) and after toxin mitigation and then a year of construction, the park and beach opened. Below is an architectural commentary first published at World-architects.com.

World-Architects packed a lunch and headed to Gansevoort Peninsula, the former sanitation facility that is now home to Manhattan’s first public beach. Designed by a team led by Field Operations, the latest addition to Hudson River Park opened to the public Oct. 2.

Although most of the manmade elements jutting into the Hudson River up and down the four miles of Hudson River Park are piers that are propped above the water on stilts, Gansevoort Peninsula is notably landfill. Created in the 1880s as part of the Gansevoort Market, aka New York City’s Meatpacking District, the buildings on the peninsula were torn down in the 1950s, when the Department of Sanitation built an incinerator plant and other facilities on it. Although pollution concerns led to the closure of the Gansevoort Destructor, the official name of the incinerator, in 1980 Sanitation used the peninsula as a garage until the completion of a replacement garage,  opened in 2015.

While the peninsula’s landfill enabled NYC to use it as an industrial site, it also gave Field Operations, the landscape architecture studio headed by James Corner (the same studio that designed the nearby High Line which has its southern entrance at Gansevoort Street) “the incredible opportunity,” in their words, “to incorporate both ecological restoration as well as access to the water that wouldn’t be possible at a typical Hudson River Park pier.”

The beach with lawn chairs and umbrellas that is attracting the most attention is located south of the sports field, reached by boardwalks, a lawn, and other landscape features. Renzo Piano’s Whitney Museum of American Art has an undeniable presence. All photographs by John Hill/World-Architects.

The center of the 5.5-acre peninsula is given over to a multifunctional athletic field. Community engagement led to a balance of active and passive recreational uses for the site.

The other element with a strong presence is Day’s End, the large-scale artwork by David Hammons that was installed by the Whitney in 2021. The ghostly pier created by Hammons fronts the beach and sits above a kayak launch.

The northern edge of the peninsula (photo at right) is home to a salt marsh and an underwater habitat for 20 million juvenile oysters. The western edge (photo at left) is referred to as the 13th Avenue Promenade, a reminder of the 19th-century street.