Westbeth Turns 50!
On May 19, 1970, a project like no other ever imagined or realized before opened its doors on the corner of West and Bethune Streets. Westbeth was the first large scale adaptive reuse of an industrial building for residential purposes, and the first subsidized housing for artists in the United States. It took an abandoned 13-building complex constructed between the 1860s and the 1930s — the former Bell Telephone Labs (itself an incredible center of innovation in sound technology over the years, where the radio tube, the “talkie,” the vacuum tube, the transatlantic telephone, among others, were invented) — and turned them into affordable permanent housing and workspace for hundreds of artists, as well as space for arts and cultural organizations, including the Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham Dance Studios, a theater for the New School, an art gallery, and even space for Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, the world’s largest LGBT synagogue. This was all done to the innovative designs of a young then-unknown architect named Richard Meier, who created 383 apartments, each unique and different from one another, and with a groundbreaking partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts and the J.M. Kaplan Fund.
|Village Preservation has long had a close working relationship with Westbeth, with whom we have partnered on many projects and programs over the years. This includes successfully nominating Westbeth for the State and National Register of Historic Places in 2010, our Westbeth Oral History project, our first-of-its-kind Westbeth artists loft tour (all supported by grants from the J.M. Kaplan Fund), proposing and securing landmark status for the complex in 2011, and unveiling a historic plaque on the complex in 2018.|