Ellen Rosen, Painter

Resident at Westbeth since 1969

When I moved into Westbeth in December 1969 I was 27 and single. It was exciting for me to move here, an adventure for all of us, and a new adventure in housing for the arts. The expectations were high, and in most ways, we have met those expectations.

Everything that was finished in 1969 was bright and clean, like new. The ceilings of the Bethune Street and West Street lobbies were painted neon reds, oranges, and pinks. So were the recesses around the compactor doors. Those colors were intense, perhaps a bit overwhelming, but they clearly made a statement.
Imagine 384 apartments, each with people moving in over a period of several months. Imagine all the commotion, the moving trucks, people everywhere, the noise, lots of discarded boxes, lots of meeting and greeting. We were actors, dancers, composers, photographers, musicians, poets, novelists and writers, painters, jewelers, etc. There was even a cookbook writer. How wonderful to live in a building where when people asked you what you did, they were referring to your artistic discipline and not how you made your living.

No one was “rich”; no one was even “middle class.” We were all in the same boat, all of us. We were all ages. There were infants, toddlers, tweens and teens. They played everywhere, in the commercial spaces that weren’t rented, in pairs and alone, in play groups. They played in the halls, the courtyards, on the stairs, and on the roofs. They rode Big Wheels, tricycles and bicycles with training wheels. They learned how to ride bikes here in the courtyard, the older children teaching the younger ones. They played ball, roller-skated, ran through the water that came from the fountain in the center of the courtyard. There was so much activity in the courtyard that it was necessary for chicken wire to be installed on the first-floor windows of the I building to protect them from being broken by stray softballs. Teenagers congregated in the courtyard, sometimes ten or fifteen at a time, especially at night. There was a lot of noise. Did it bother us? Yes, sometimes it did, but we worked it out. We took care of one another, and we took care of each other’s kids. We swapped babies. The older children babysat for the little ones. They walked our dogs.

The friends I made that first year I have shared my life with. Westbeth was like a small town, a vibrant, active community. It still is.

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