Resident at Westbeth since 1981
I first read about Westbeth in the New York Times in 1969, when I was an art student at Cornell, and pictured myself living there; by the time I moved in, in 1981, I was writing fiction and reviewing books. I had been in some Westbeth apartments: Joe Chaikin’s, with fab riv vu; Ralph Lee’s quirky space, full of the giant figures; and Ted Hoagland’s dark duplex—with a washing machine. The one I got was on the second floor, facing the parking lot of the Superior Ink factory. If I managed to lean out past the thick wall, I got my riv vu. I installed Mylar in the deep embrasure, hoping to capture the slice of water and sunset, but succeeding only in reflecting brick. In June, I got one inch of direct sun as it rose or set. The dim space was further darkened by the High Line where it bridged Bethune Street, and again by the flaking diamond grid of gates covering the windows. I asked if I could remove them: no. I called them the monkey bars.
Still, I delighted in my cage. I filled the deep window ledges with flowering plants safely held behind the monkey bars. I could watch the progress of sunset in the orange glow of a little cinder-block building. Then it was effaced by a high-rise. Around the time my first novel was being published, the lid of the High Line was lifted off Bethune Street. Superior remained one of the last vestiges of the industrial neighborhood; when the factory was demolished, and after four books, I briefly had my riv vu. But I also had men carrying boards walking level with my windows, on scaffolding. The pear tree that had grown to fill one window soon streamed with plastic bags; long outlasting the scaffolding, a construction mask twisted from a branch. At last, as I packed boxes and threw out author copies to move seven floors up and a few hundred feet west, management had the monkey bars removed.