The End of the West Washington Market
On this day in 1954, the West Washington Market, which stood on the west side of West Street at Gansevoort Street for sixty-seven years, was demolished, ending its tenure as the City’s meat, poultry and dairy market center. The Gansevoort Market area was actually home to three distinct markets that existed here at various times during the past century and a half: the original Gansevoort Farmers’ Market, the West Washington Market, and the Gansevoort Market Meat Center, which still exists, north of the Whitney Museum, between West and Washington Streets. GVSHP got much of the Meatpacking District landmarked in 2003 and all of it placed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 2007, each as the Gansevoort Market Historic District. Click here to see the designation reports for those districts.
New York City began planning a market on Gansevoort Street more than fifty years before the market’s actual opening in 1884. As early as 1831, worried that the older markets to the south were becoming unmanageably overcrowded, the City proposed acquiring underwater property near Gansevoort Street, owned by the Astor family, in order to create landfill for a new market district. The sale was finally completed in 1852, at which time the shoreline was filled in. In 1854 the City again announced plans for a market, but nothing much happened. That same year, a freight depot for the Hudson River Railroad opened on Gansevoort Street and West Street, and by the mid-1860s a number of vendors had left the downtown Washington Market and set up business by the depot. By 1880, the City declared that the block bounded today by Gansevoort, Little West 12th, Washington and West streets, plus blocks to the west on landfill, would become a public market. The Gansevoort Market officially opened in 1884 on the enormous paved open-air block between Gansevoort and Little West 12th streets, on the site of the former Fort Gansevoort, and of the future Gansevoort Market Meat Center. This original Gansevoort Farmers’ Market was an open-air produce market. Harper’s Weekly described the scene in 1888, a few years after its official opening: “During the dark hours of early morning, as hundreds of wagons of all descriptions converge upon the market regions, pandemonium reigns as traffic chokes the thoroughfares for blocks around.”
In 1887, to add meat, poultry and dairy products to the market activity, the City built the West Washington Market directly across West Street from the Gansevoort Farmers’ Market. The West Washington Market was enclosed in ten two-story-tall red brick and terra cotta buildings, completed in 1889, set on four streets and one avenue. In 1939, the WPA Guide to New York City described the scene at both the Gansevoort Farmer’s Market and the West Washington Market:
“Gansevoort Market, or ‘Farmers’ Market,’ as it is generally known, occupies the block between Gansevoort and Little West Twelfth streets. Farmers from Long Island, Staten Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut bring their produce here at night for sale under supervision of the Department of Public Markets. Activities begin at 4 a.m. Farmers in overalls and mud-caked shoes stand in trucks, shouting their wares. Commission merchants, pushcart vendors, and restaurant buyers trudge warily from one stand to another, digging arms into baskets of fruits or vegetables to ascertain quality. Trucks move continually in and out among the piled crates of tomatoes, beans, cabbages, lettuce, and other greens in the street. Hungry derelicts wander about in the hope of picking up a stray vegetable dropped from some truck, while patient nuns wait to receive leftover, unsalable goods for distribution among the destitute. The market closes at 10 a.m. and is not open Sundays or holidays. Across West Street is the West Washington market, comprising ten quaint red brick buildings which house a live poultry market patronized mostly by kosher butchers Since poultry requires ample heat in winter, every stall is equipped with a furnace, so that each roof adds more than a dozen chimneys to its picturesque architecture.”
The West Washington Market survived until 1954 – the year of the buildings’ demolition, the widening of West Street, and the construction of the Department of Sanitation’s incinerator on the site (the “Gansevoort Destructor”). By that time, the City had built the new (1949) Gansevoort Market Meat Center on the site of the old Gansevoort produce market, and meat eclipsed produce as the mainstay of the area.