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Meatpacking District's Gritty History Recalled in New Video

Meatpacking District merchants and developers recalled the history of the area in a video released in April 2012.
Meatpacking District merchants and developers recalled the history of the area in a video released in April 2012.
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MPIA/The Standard

MANHATTAN —  When the Meatpacking District was known more for drug sales, prostitution and swinging slabs of beef than velvet-rope nightclubs and designer boutiques, Standard Hotel owner André Balazs brought a banker to an empty lot that is now the Hotel Gansevoort. 

After the banker was catcalled by a transgender woman, he couldn't wait to return to swankier parts of the city, Balazs said in a short video on the history of the Meatpacking District released last week by the neighborhood's business improvement district.

"I couldn't get him past three blocks," Balazs recounted, "because he said, 'Andre, listen. I don't know what you have in mind for this area, but I can't take this anymore.'"

In the seven-minute mini-documentary, called "The Meatpacking District: Past Present Future,"  neighborhood old-timers, business owners and elected officials recalled widespread doubts about the Meatpacking District's potential for transformation. 

"If you had said 20 years ago that the Meatpacking District is going to be a cultural hub, people would have looked at you like you were in some kind of beef-induced overdose haze and you had lost your mind," said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who represents the neighborhood, in the video.

The area changed when developers created office lofts and high-end retail in the 1990s, and after Florent Morellet opened his now-closed diner serving late-night French food to the artsy crowd, business owners remembered. 

"I'll never forget when the neighborhood started to transition," said Michelle Dell, owner of Hogs & Heifers Saloon on Washington Street, "with the women rolling around in their Jimmy Choos and their Guccis, kind of slipping and sliding in these streets that were covered in this thin film of meat sludge."

Those featured in the video — including Mike Meilman, co-founder of Meilman Family Real Estate, which has owned property in the neighborhood for more than 75 years — were excited about upcoming development, such as the Whitney Museum of American Art's relocation to the base of the High Line.

"From where it was to where it is now," he said, "I find it absolutely amazing,."