Westbeth Landmarked!

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) just voted unanimously to landmark Westbeth, following through on a promise made seven years ago to the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) and other community groups working to extend landmark protections in the Far West Village. 

Westbeth as viewed from the Hudson River Park. Photo courtesy Barry Munger.

Westbeth is a singularly important historic site.  Between 1965 and 1970, the abandoned Bell Telephone Labs between Bethune and Bank Streets on the Greenwich Village waterfront were converted by then-unknown architect Richard Meier into Westbeth, the country’s first subsidized housing complex for artists, and the first large-scale adaptive re-use of an industrial building for residential purposes.  As the Bell Telephone Labs, the complex was the site of the invention of chain broadcasting, the vacuum tube, and the transatlantic telephone, and parts of the first “talkie,” the Jazz Singer, were produced there.  Since its transformation to artists’ housing, Diane Arbus, Merce Cunningham, Moses Gunn, Hans Haacke, and Gil Evans, among countless other artists, lived or worked at Westbeth.  One of the first residential developments along the Greenwich Village waterfront, Westbeth began the transformation of this formerly industrial area into a vibrant residential community.  Westbeth remains an affordable housing complex for more than 350 working artists, providing live/work spaces, studios, and galleries.

The Richard Meier-designed fire escape balconies at Westbeth's inner courtyard. Photo courtesy of Bob Estremera.

The designation has been a long time coming.  GVSHP led a coalition of community groups in 2004 to call for the extension of landmark protections in the Far West Village and along the Greenwich Village waterfront, specifically calling for landmark protections for Westbeth and other sites.  In 2005 the City promised to extend landmark protections to Westbeth and about 75 other buildings in the Far West Village, most of which were designated in 2006 (three promised sites — Charles Lane, 370, and 372 West 11th Street — have still not been considered by the LPC).  As we waited for the City to follow through on its promised consideration of landmark designation of Westbeth, GVSHP, with support from the J.M. Kaplan Fund, researched and documented the complex’s 150 year history to nominate Westbeth to the State and National Register of Historic Places, and to assist and spur the LPC to move ahead with landmark designation.  In 2009, GVSHP’s nomination of Westbeth was accepted and the complex was listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places, providing opportunities for grants and loans to help with restoration and maintenance of the complex.  In 2010 the LPC proposed Westbeth for landmark designation.  The proposed designation was heard in early 2010, and this morning the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to designate Westbeth.  Landmark status takes immediate effect.

If you want to learn more about Westbeth, you can view images and a brief history of the complex HERE, read a more detailed history of the complex from GVSHP’s State and National Register nomination HERE, or access oral histories conducted by GVSHP with many of the key figures behind Westbeth’s founding HERE.  Click HERE to see more about the first-of-its-kind artists loft tour of Westbeth which GVSHP and the Westbeth Artists Residents Council held in 2010, marking Westbeth’s 40th anniversary and GVSHP’s 30th, which showcased dozens of artists’ collections and their Richard Meier-designed live/work spaces.

Visitors enjoying the view from the Westbeth rooftop during the 2010 GVSHP/Westbeth Artists Residents Council loft tour, marking Westbeth's 40th anniversary and GVSHP's 30th. Photo Bob Estremera.

Today’s landmark designation is a great victory for our efforts, and I want to thank everyone who came to rallies, wrote letters, testified, or otherwise showed support.  However, as sites in the Far West Village which the City promised to consider for landmarking remain undesignated, please send a letter today thanking them for the designation of Westbeth, but urging them to follow through on their 2004 promise and designate the remaining Far West Village sites – CLICK HERE for sample letter and contact information.

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Andrew Berman Andrew Berman has been the Executive Director of GVSHP since 2002.