Westbeth Artist Housing, a 13-building complex in the West Village, provides dynamic living and working spaces for nearly 400 multi-discipline artists. When Westbeth opened in 1970, it was the first and largest federally subsidized artist’s complex in the United States and is an example of successful adaptive reuse in New York City, a formerly industrial site transformed into affordable residences for New Yorkers.

Westbeth Artist sHousing with High LinePhotograph by Roger Braimon

Originally built as a compound for Bell Telephone Laboratories, Westbeth was, for a time, the largest industrial research center in the United States. Between 1898 and 1966 numerous noteworthy inventions were made at Bell Laboratories, including the first transistor, first experimental talking movies, first binary computer, first television broadcast, black and white and color TV, video telephones, radar, the vacuum tube, and more.

Bell Labs Executive Office

On Sunday, February 23rd at 2 PM, Untapped New York Insiders will be treated to a free behind-the-scenes tour led by a Westbeth artist in residence, Gayle Kirschenbaum whose solo photo exhibition STILL MOMENTS is currently in the First Floor Gallery. Kirschenbaum will be taking us to see the lobby, the rooftop, her artist residence, and an available apartment with stunning views of the Hudson River that was formerly the executive suite of Bell Labs. You’ll see some incredible architectural spots that only the melding of industry and residential can produce, like how the High Line runs through Westbeth.

Westbeth gallery

photo of island and tree by Gayle KirschenbaumPhoto from STILL MOMENTS by Gayle Kirschenbaum

The tour will conclude with a visit to STILL MOMENTS with Kirschenbaum, who is an Emmy award winning Netflix filmmaker and TEDx speaker. “Give me a plane, train or bus ticket, or a set of wheels and I promise I will come back with photos and stories that will warm your heart.”

Registration opens at noon today for this tour. If you’re not an Insider yet, become a member to join this tour and many other experiences!


One thought on “Go Inside Westbeth, the Artist Live/Work Space in Former Bell Labs

  1. I have always had a mortal terror of Westbeth, dating back to when I was 11 years old, and one of my schoolmates lived there.

    I’ll call him Mel Hall, after my least favorite major league baseball player, to avoid a nasty libel suit.

    Mel suffered from Hodgkin’s Disease, and unlike the brave teenagers who were dying of “diseases-of-the-week” in TV movies and the screenplays of them we read in “Scholastic Scope” magazine for English class, Mel didn’t courageously get an A+ in his studies and apply to college — he formed a little band of sadists that beat the hell out of gay men and suspected gay youth. I was one of those “suspected gay youth,” and they mobbed me when I was in that neighborhood, terrifying me.

    Ultimately, Mel Hall did not die of Hodgkin’s. Modern medication saved him where it did not save Mickey Mantle’s relatives. So Mel went on to open his own catering business.

    But there was some justice…Mel and his buddies jumped a gay couple emerging from a gym in the West Village, and these two guys were into weightlifting and body-building. They were not amused by being harassed by tweeners half their age, so the gay men stomped the living hell out of the kids, sending the lot to St. Vinnie’s with various minor injuries.

    Mel saw his army being defeated, and showed his great leadership skills by running away, leaving them behind to face the medics and the music. That was the end of his gang.

    I was also told that after that, he spent most of his days in his room, curtains drawn, utterly depressed, listening to something called “Quadrophenia,” and listlessly smoking marijuana. I guess he couldn’t show his face.

    But his latest address in my high school alumni directory — he followed me there but did not harm me — says that he still lives in Westbeth. Never moved out. Probably runs the business out of his apartment, when not listening to Quadrophenia and smoking pot.

    He and I are both 57 now, but my last memory of Mel Hall is him karate-kicking me in the back from my middle school at 8th Avenue and 17th Street to my home at 7th Avenue and 13th Street.

    I know my daughter (aged 23) would probably be interested in this tour for both the engineering history and the art history — she works right near Westbeth — and we both carry pepper spray, but I think I would be traumatized if I had to face Mel Hall again.

    I don’t think I can forgive him.

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