Friends In Low Places: The Lowline Draws Celebrity Admirers, Now It Just Needs $60 M.

Angel Orensanz Foundation

Lowline supporters gather at the Angel Orensanz Foundation, a former synagogue on Norfolk Street.

Though guests gathered at the Lowline’s Great Anti-Gala last Tuesday night to raise funds for the nascent lighting technology that would enable the world’s first subterranean park, the cavernous interior of the defunct Lower East Side synagogue that hosted the event was illuminated by one of the oldest: candles.

A good-natured but somewhat relentless homage to the early 20th-century Lower East Side, the evening celebrated the era when the Lowline’s would-be home—the derelict Williamsburg Trolley Terminal—was dedicated to transit rather than urban planning dreams.

Contortionists, acrobats and tap dancers with tin cups roamed through the cocktail-swilling crowd, causing some confusion: “Are we supposed to tip them, or are those cups just for show?” one man wondered aloud to his date, who confessed that she was equally perplexed.

As 8 p.m. drew near, an old-fashioned conductor appeared to shepherd guests to dinner. On the synagogue’s main floor, waiters served up turtle soup, poached stuffed chicken, duchess potatoes and tinned white asparagus. Among those supping on the old-fashioned fare were Mark Ruffalo, Lena Dunham and High Line fairy godmother Diane von Furstenberg.

The Lowline will need many friends like Ms. von Furstenberg if it is to become a reality. Aside from convincing the MTA to turn the former trolley terminal over, project co-founders Dan Barasch and James Ramsey estimate that they will need to raise $60 million in capital funds to build the park and develop the emergent technology needed to channel sunlight underground and photosynthesize subterranean greenery. (They have raised about $1 million so far.)

Some have criticized the project as being a little too far-fetched, but Robert Hammond, the co-founder of the High Line, told the Transom that no one thought the High Line would work either.

“People are really rooting for it. No matter where I give a talk, I get asked about the Lowline,” he said. “New Yorkers have a reputation for being so cynical, but they love a difficult project. The crazier it is, the better.”

Despite the fact that the High Line is built on an elevated rail track in Chelsea, the two have drawn such frequent comparisons that Messrs. Barasch and Ramsey have finally dropped the name they christened the project with—Delancey Underground—accepting its radically more popular nickname, even if it does cause some confusion.

“A lot of people think it’s actually under the High Line,” said Mr. Barasch, adding that it’s not the only major misconception.
“We get calls all the time from people who want to book it for events, especially fashion PR people. They think it already exists.”

And while the fashionable set of 1908 would never have set foot on the Lower East Side, let alone spent their leisure time lounging in a trolley terminal, the neighborhood now numbers among the most desirable destinations for the young and hip.

After dinner, the Transom sidled up to Edward Norton and asked the actor what he thought of the new Lower East Side.

“I’ve been here since ’91, and, like all parts of New York, it’s been changing. It’s never a fixed quality. It’s always in flux,” he said.

And was that change good or bad?

“Either way, you can’t resist it. But the best thing about New York is the reimagination of space. It’s been that way since the Dutch came here,” he responded, before declaring his own need for change. “I gotta jump!” he exclaimed, dashing toward the door.

We posed the same question to two of the tap-dancing buskers, figuring that representatives of the neighborhood’s past might have some thoughts on the matter. But they pleaded ignorance.

“When I first moved here, I was like, ‘Go below 14th Street? Why?’” said one busker, who lives in Astoria, adjusting his newsboy cap as he looked around the room. “But now I see that it can be a lot of fun.”

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