Gwynne Duncan, Painter

Resident at Westbeth since 1970

Fountain Skating

One Christmas, my sister Rachel and I got matching blue bikes, and my sister Jane got a little red one. We would ride them in our courtyard around and around the center fountain, which was surrounded by a circle of round cement seating pedestals. We also roller-skated with those clip-on metal slide-to-fit skates that strapped onto your sneakers. And then one Christmas, we got real roller skates with the lace-up white boots. Sometimes we rode skateboards, and watched in awe as the teenage boys did skateboard tricks riding up ramps and off the cement block stage area in the courtyard. In the winter, the center fountain would freeze over, and a moat of ice would surround the wrought iron grate on top where the water shot up during the summer, and we would ice skate around the frozen fountain in circles. All the kids would gather in the communal courtyard, which was semipublic as it was connected to the sidewalk, and anyone could wander in. So it was a real meeting place for the building kids and adults, as well as kids from other neighborhoods who would hang out there regularly–plus a few unwanted gang members and drug addicts off the streets. But it was the West Village of the 1970s, when the streets were gritty and nearly empty. It was an edgy wasteland, but inhabited by the bohemian artists and homesteaders who contributed to making New York City so attractive with their culture and lifestyle.

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