1968 was a big year for New York City and the world – music, arts, staggering political and social change. And, in the midst of it all, a tan block-square collection of connected buildings known as the Bell Telephone Laboratories was transformed into the Westbeth Center for the Arts. A key component of that transformation was having the block rezoned in a new and unique way to allow residential, commercial, and non-profit use, which was approved on March 21, 1968.
Westbeth Courtyard from the top of the ramp, by Ezra Stoller
The first time I walked into the Westbeth complex, I was amazed by how friendly everyone there was, how beautiful the facade was, and the uniqueness of the courtyard, studded with its half-moon balconies, sculpture, and round cement platforms instead of benches. I was struck by the art in the window of the Bank Street Theater. It is at once a labyrinth, a home, an arts community, and a pioneer in adaptive reuse of industrial space. It was rare and precious, but in 1968 it was nothing less than trailblazing.
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