Chelsea Piers

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Chelsea Piers as seen from the air. Pier 62 is on the left, with the driving range of Pier 59 partially visible on the right
Chelsea Piers from the West Side Highway
Golf club entrance

Chelsea Piers is a series of piers in Chelsea, on the West Side of Manhattan in New York City. Located to the west of the West Side Highway (Eleventh Avenue) and Hudson River Park and to the east of the Hudson River, they were originally a passenger ship terminal in the early 1900s that was used by the RMS Lusitania and was the destination of the RMS Carpathia after rescuing the survivors of the RMS Titanic. The piers replaced a variety of run-down waterfront structures with a row of grand buildings embellished with pink granite facades.[1]

The piers are currently used by the Chelsea Piers Sports & Entertainment Complex. The Complex is a 28-acre waterfront sports village located between 17th and 23rd Streets along Manhattan's Hudson River. This privately financed project opened in 1995. Situated on Piers 59, 60 and 61 and in the head house that connects them, the complex features the Golf Club, a multi-story driving range; the Field House, which contains numerous sports and training facilities; Sky Rink, which has two full-sized ice rinks; the Chelsea Piers Fitness health club; Bowlmor at Chelsea Piers, a bowling alley; and Sunset Terrace, a venue that hosts weddings. The complex also includes several event centers; the Studios film and television production facilities; and the Maritime Center marina for mooring private boats.


Development and construction[edit]

Historically, the term Chelsea Piers referred to the luxury liner berths on Manhattan's west side from 1910 to the 1930s. With ocean liners such as the Titanic becoming bigger and bigger, New York City was looking for a new passenger ship dock in the early 1900s. The Army, which controls the location and size of piers, refused to let any piers extend beyond the existing pierhead line of the North River (the navigation name for the Hudson River south of 30th Street). Ship lines were reluctant to build north of 23rd Street because infrastructure was already in place, including the New York Central railway line and a ferry station near the river at 23rd Street.[2]

New York City solved the problem in an unusual way by actually taking away a block of land that was the 1837 landfill that extended Manhattan to 13th Avenue. The controversial decision included condemning many businesses. The city was unable to condemn the West Washington Street Market and was left to remain landfill. The market ultimately closed and the dock was converted to a sanitation facility that was used to load garbage barges headed for the Fresh Kills Landfill. The only section of 13th Avenue that remains is behind the sanitation facility, now a parking lot for sanitation trucks. The landfill is now called the Gansevoort Peninsula.

The new piers were designed by the architectural firm of Warren and Wetmore, which also designed Grand Central Terminal. Under contracts let by the New York City Department of Dock and Ferries, the Chelsea Section Improvement, as it was officially called, replaced a hodgepodge of run-down waterfront structures with a row of grand buildings embellished with pink granite facades and formed the docking points for the rival Cunard and White Star Lines.

Early 20th century[edit]

The RMS Carpathia at Pier 54 after the RMS Titanic rescue

Most of the major trans-Atlantic liners of the day docked at the piers and they played pivotal roles in the RMS Titanic and RMS Lusitania disasters. The two most memorable moments for the pier were with the Lusitania and Titanic. The RMS Lusitania left her Cunard Pier 54 in 1915 before being torpedoed by German submarine U-20. The RMS Titanic was destined for the White Star pier 59 when she sank. Survivors were rescued on Cunard's RMS Carpathia. The Carpathia dropped off the Titanic's lifeboats at Pier 59 before going back south to Pier 54 where she unloaded the passengers and survivors. Thousands of people assembled at the dock to greet the ship.

During the summer of 1920, a dramatic rally was organized on July 31 at the White Star Line docks. This was to send off Daniel Mannix, the Irish born Archbishop of Melbourne, Australia who had been outspoken on the English rule in Ireland, and successfully led anti conscription campaigns during WW1. A reported 15,000 New Yorkers turned up at Pier 60 at the foot of West 20th street to make sure Lloyd George would allow Mannix passage to Ireland.[3][4]

A luxury liner row was built between West 44th and West 52nd Street to handle larger liners in the 1930s. After New York moved its luxury liner piers to the New York Cruise Terminal between West 46th and West 54th Street in 1935 to accommodate bigger ships such as the RMS Queen Mary and the SS Normandie, the Chelsea piers became a cargo terminal. During World War II the piers were used to deploy troops.[2] The piers had catastrophic fires in 1932 and 1947 that destroyed some of the south piers. New construction resulted in new cargo piers used by the United States Lines and Grace line.

In July 1936, Jesse Owens and the United States Olympic team depart on the SS Manhattan from Pier 60 for the Summer Games in Berlin, Germany.[5]

Late 20th century[edit]

In the 1980s, plans circulated to replace the West Side Elevated Highway with an at grade highway going along the West Side south of 42nd Street. The plan called for the highway to run over demolished piers. The superstructure of Pier 54 was demolished in 1991 except for the archway entrance (along with the White Star and Cunard signage). The plan (dubbed the Westway) was abandoned after court cases said the new highway would jeopardize striped bass.

Following the demise of Westway, development of the West Side Highway evolved into two parts: a public/private partnership that evolved into the upper piers being used for recreational purposes. The southern piers are now part of the Hudson River Park while the northern piers make up the Chelsea Piers Sports & Entertainment Complex. Construction of the complex began on July 12, 1994 in ceremonies attended by New York Governor Mario Cuomo, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger.[1] The complex opened in August 1995.[6]

After the collapse of the World Trade Center due to the September 11 attacks, EMS triage centers were quickly relocated and consolidated at the Chelsea Piers and the Staten Island Ferry Whitehall Terminal. The EMS triage center was shut down and disassembled on September 12, 2001, due to a lack of need. An ad hoc volunteer disaster recovery site was run from Chelsea Piers through September 16, 2001. Volunteers assisted with resources for ground zero recovery volunteers: sleeping area, food, and cell phones.

Chelsea Piers Connecticut, the first expansion project of Chelsea Piers, was built in Stamford, Connecticut. The facility opened in July 2012.

Piers 54/55[edit]

The archway is the only remaining identifiable piece of the pier
Pier 54 in 2012

Pier 54 at 40°44′29″N 74°0′36″W / 40.74139°N 74.01000°W / 40.74139; -74.01000, part of the historic Chelsea Piers, is associated with the 1912 RMS Titanic and 1915 RMS Lusitania maritime disasters, when it was used by the Cunard Line. It is now part of Hudson River Park. The piers themselves are at Little West 12th Street and the Hudson River in the Meatpacking District/Greenwich Village neighborhood.[7] The pier was also used for troop ships during World War II. After the war it was used as part of the W. R. Grace and Company and United States Lines freight operations.

In 1998 the piers became part of the Hudson River Park. Since then, they have been used for concerts and other events. In 2005, it was the site of The Nomadic Museum's art exhibit housed in shipping containers. Pier 54 was finally shut down in 2011 after it started to collapse.[8]

In the late 2010s and early 2020s, a park called Little Island was built on the site of piers 54 and 55.[9] Plans for the park, originally known as Pier 55, were announced in November 2014.[10][11] The plans were scrapped in 2017 due to legal trouble and cost overruns.[12][13] In October 2017, the park plan was revived,[14] and construction of the structure began in April 2018.[15][16] It was opened on May 21, 2021.[17]

In popular culture[edit]

25 movies have been filmed at Chelsea Piers.

  • Chelsea Piers features in the 1978 cult film Times Square, notably in the sequence in which Pamela and Nicki escape from the psychiatric hospital and hide out at Pier 56
  • Chelsea Piers Golf Club was featured in the 2010 Hollywood film The Other Guys, including a high-speed chase scene through the piers and a helicopter landing on the Golf Club's driving range.

Several TV shows have been filmed here:

  • Shows in the Law & Order franchise have been filmed in Chelsea Piers. Both Law & Order and spinoff Law & Order: Criminal Intent were produced on stages here for their entire runs. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit moved into the space occupied by the original series after its cancellation in 2010.[18] On September 14, 2004, a road leading to Pier 62 was renamed "Law & Order Way".[19]
  • The Apprentice filmed three episodes at Chelsea Piers, including 2 finales.
  • The first four seasons of Spin City were shot in studio D on Chelsea Piers.
  • Pier 54 was the site for MTV's reality television program Band in a Bubble in which a popular band (in this case, Cartel) is placed inside a large "bubble" enclosure where they write and record a new album in 20 days while under constant surveillance. Webcams placed strategically inside the building broadcast via internet live images of the band's movements and progress.

Chelsea Piers was the broadcast headquarters for CBS Sports Network.



  1. ^ a b "Chelsea Piers History 101 | Chelsea Piers NYC". Retrieved August 1, 2019.
  2. ^ a b "GLTS - New York City Memorials". Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  3. ^ Bayor, Ronald H.; Meagher, Timothy (September 30, 1997). The New York Irish. ISBN 9780801857645. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  4. ^ "Demonstration at Chelsea Pier, New York as Archbishop Mannix sailed on S.S. Baltin, 31 July 1920 [pi... - National Library of Australia". Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  5. ^ "Chelsea Piers, NYC - AsNotedIn".
  6. ^ Weber, Bruce (August 9, 1995). "For Huge Recreation Complex, It's Time to Start Playing All". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 2, 2019.
  7. ^ Cimino, Eric (Summer 2019). "Walking Titanic's Charity Trail in New York City: Part Two, The Meatpacking District and West Village". Voyage: Journal of the Titanic International Society. 108: 163–165, 167.
  8. ^ Foderaro, Lisa W. (April 3, 2015). "How Diller and von Furstenberg Got Their Island in Hudson River Park". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
  9. ^ "What's That Strange New Thing Rising in the Hudson River?". The New York Times. December 7, 2018. Retrieved December 9, 2018.
  10. ^ West, Melanie G. (November 17, 2014). "Hudson River Park Gets $100 Million Launch". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
  11. ^ "Here's The Spectacular $165 Million Park Planned For The Hudson River". Gothamist. November 17, 2014. Archived from the original on November 20, 2014. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
  12. ^ Slattery, Denis (September 14, 2017). "Plans scrapped for $200M 'Diller Island' floating on Hudson". NY Daily News. Retrieved September 14, 2017.
  13. ^ Bagli, Charles V. (September 13, 2017). "Billionaire Diller's Plan for Elaborate Pier in the Hudson is Dead". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 14, 2017.
  14. ^ Bagli, Charles V. (October 25, 2017). "'Diller Island' Is Back From the Dead". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 26, 2017.
  15. ^ Warerkar, Tanay (April 18, 2018). "Work resumes on Pier 55's Thomas Heatherwick-designed park". Curbed NY. Retrieved December 9, 2018.
  16. ^ Hilburg, Jonathan (April 24, 2018). "Construction at Heatherwick's Pier 55 is back on". Retrieved December 9, 2018.
  17. ^ "Thomas Heatherwick's Little Island Prepares for Spring Opening at Pier 55 in Chelsea, Manhattan". January 30, 2021.
  18. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (June 25, 2010). "'Law & Order: SVU' Leaves New Jersey Over Nixed Tax Credit & May Move Into 'L&O' Set". Deadline Hollywood. Media. Retrieved June 25, 2010.
  19. ^ "Commissioner Oliver presents Law & Order Way". Archived from the original on October 24, 2004. Retrieved August 1, 2019.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°44′50″N 74°0′35″W / 40.74722°N 74.00972°W / 40.74722; -74.00972