Tom Duncan, Sculptor

Resident at Westbeth since 1970

Back in the late 1960s, my cousin worked at Bell Laboratories. She told me they were thinking of turning Bell Labs into artists housing and that I should keep an eye out for it. At the time, I was married and had two small daughters. We lived in Chelsea and would walk down to see the progress on building Westbeth. My sculpture studio was in Gramercy Park. Having two rents to pay was getting to be a challenge, so the idea of moving to Westbeth and consolidating was appealing. I applied, was interviewed, and was rejected for an apartment, which was upsetting. But a few months later, I was accepted. When I finally signed my leased, I was given a floor plan of my apartment, which was luckily on the top floor. I was one of the first tenants in the building. Back then the only entrance was on West Street. The two A elevators were running as was the freight elevator. Eventually you could enter the building through the courtyard. The two long halls on 3, 6, and 9 were sealed off because most of the apartments weren’t finished.

Across the street, the piers were still active, although they were in their last days; the elevated West Side Highway was humming. The freight trains were running on the High Line, which ran through Westbeth. Since then, the area has changed drastically. Nearby in the meat market, there used to be carcasses of meat hanging on tracks and rotten meat sitting in garbage cans; rats had a field day. Today there is a big bright Tesla showroom there. On the corner of Bethune and Greenwich Streets was a metal-supply company where I used to buy metal for my sculpture. Today D’Agostino’s is there. Across the street on Bethune was Superior Ink, where I used to buy ink supplies for my graphics. Today it’s a fancy apartment building.

I was 30 when I moved to Westbeth. My youngest daughter was born here. I’ve just celebrated my 80th birthday. I could not have survived as an artist without Westbeth. I have created some of my best work living and working here.

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