Westbeth Past Campaign Updates
New Oral History Celebrating Westbeth’s 50th Anniversary — Puppeteer Ralph Lee, “Father” of the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade
|Puppeteer and theater artist Ralph Lee has lived in Westbeth since its opening in 1970. A veteran of The Open Theatre and LaMaMa Etc., among Ralph’s many claims to fame are founding the Village Halloween Parade in 1974, which began as a small community event in the Westbeth courtyard, but which grew to one of the largest events in New York and one of the largest parades in the country. Lee was the parade’s director from 1974 to 1985, and director of the Mettawee River Theatre Company for over four decades starting in 1976. In his oral history Ralph discusses his range of work expanding the boundaries of art, theater, and community, as well as a half century living at Westbeth.|
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.|
Westbeth Plaque Unveiled
| On Tuesday, Village Preservation unveiled our thirteenth historic plaque at Westbeth – watch the video here and see pictures here. The Westbeth complex, located between West, Bethune, Washington and Bank Streets, consists of thirteen buildings constructed between the 1860s and 1930s, most originally for Bell Telephone Labs. Some of the most important innovations in sound technology were developed or advanced there, including radar, the first talking movies, television, and video telephones. In 1966 Bell left the West Village, and the complex was reimagined as housing and workspace for artists, in one of the first examples of large-scale adaptive re-use of an industrial building for residential purposes, and one of the first examples of publicly subsidized housing for artists.|
Village Preservation was proud to honor and highlight this remarkable history. Past plaques have marked the former homes of James Baldwin, Elizabeth Blackwell, Lorraine Hansberry, Frank O’Hara, Martha Graham, The Fillmore East, the San Remo Café, and many more. Learn more about all of our historic plaques here, or explore them all by map below.