Original tenant, January 1970
My son has not ever forgiven me for moving out of Westbeth. It has been more than 40 years. He pretends he has, but down deep? Not so much. He (and I) LOVED living there.
The announcement/invite article in the New York Times was small, perhaps a paragraph or two, about a building in the West Village coming together for artists. It was buried on page 20 or 40, not something you would notice, but oddly I did. I was living in a way too small apartment on the Upper West Side with Owen, my then three-year-old son, crammed and worried. The street was dicey, noisy, scary, and the apartment was expensive. I applied to Westbeth and, to my surprise, got in. I had assumed I needed to be of the level and likes of Merce Cunningham or a famous sculptor, or painter, or … but I, a very young sculptor and designer, got in, Oct. 31, 1969. I nervously signed a lease to start January 1970. I became the first tenant of apartment 902.
An entire building of artists and actors, dancers and writers. Intense? Yes. At first, it was an art party. Stimulating conversations at the incinerator chute? Yes. Great “treasures” were left by the chute door. Books and stuffed animals, dishes, pots, houseplants, recycling at its artistic best.
Galway Kinnell lived in my hallway, as did Diane Arbus. Diane’s daughter babysat for Owen. Tod Williams, a now world-famous architect, lived down the hall as well. Hans Haacke lived upstairs. I met street theater producers, dancers, puppeteers, poets, composers, and, yes, even Merce Cunningham. It was most wonderful.
I loved the space, open, sun-filled, with closets on wheels that could define a wall. I also put all my furniture on wheels, since I loved to move things around constantly.
An aside: The building was the world’s best Halloween site: block-long hallways made for safe trick-or-treating, and 350-plus doors to knock on.
Since Westbeth, life and work have taken me to Vermont, Boston, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Northampton, Mass., and now back to Vermont. Would I move back to Westbeth now, if I could? Yes, yes, yes.