Gwynne Duncan, Painter

Resident at Westbeth since 1970

Elevated West Side Highway

My dad loved to take his three girls exploring. We would all ride bikes or roller skates on the abandoned elevated West Side Highway, which had been deemed unsafe when a truck fell through, and was closed for many years to cars before it was demolished. It ran along the Hudson River, across the street from Westbeth, and we would ride downtown past the construction site for the new World Trade Centers to where the highway ended in Battery Park and have a picnic there. All the old piers were abandoned too, and you had to be careful walking on them as there were nails sticking up and loose wood boards holding them together. You had to pass through under the highway to get to the river. It was dark and scary and was used as a parking lot. There were prostitutes and drug dealers everywhere, and it was like the lawless Wild West of New York City. People would often jump off the piers, and we would watch from our tenth floor window as they searched for the bodies and pulled them ashore. Teenagers would light the piers on fire for fun, and we watched the giant infernos from our window, as the old piers burned one by one over the years. We had a view of the city skyline looking north to the Empire State Building, the waterfront and the Hudson River, and New Jersey on the other side. Jane thought New Jersey was Africa.

Photo: Tom Duncan.

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