December 27, 2015
The West Village seems to exist outside the general nine to five structure of many other New York suburbs. Williamsburg was similar but it didn’t have the same variety. Over here people often strolled in the afternoon, without the need to rush back to work. It was a mixture of new and old money, not a lot of grit but a cool spot. I lived here for 6 months a couple of years ago, a building called Westbeth. It’s an old commune on Bethune and Washington, a big old industrial space, previously the Bell Telephone Labs building before being converted to affordable housing for artists in the 60s. The most live-in studio spaces ever created within one building. Given the experiment it was and continues to be, I assume it’s still the biggest.
The place had become a retirement home in the heart of the West Village, a rumored twenty year wait list.
Claire put her Westbeth studio on craigslist every summer, a setup that had funded her travel around the world. A wall of travel guides and tables full of dusty knickknacks mapped a chunk of her last twenty years. I paid her two thousand per month but with rent control she must have been paying under a grand. She looked close to seventy , and now traded Europe and Africa for trips to Woodstock. After living in the place for a few days I started to notice that the rest of the building was all around her age or older, it looked like no one had moved out since the 60s. With such low rent you could understand why. The place had pretty much become a retirement home in the heart of the West Village, a rumored twenty year wait list greeted to everyone that came in to chat to the doorman. Once you had a place here you didn’t leave, you passed it on to family or tried to run a profitable low key sublet by kicking something back to the doorman or manager.
Back in it’s prime Westbeth Studios harbored arrivals from everywhere, welcoming them into the ideal of a new era in New York.
When they had created this place it was still a dodgy area, full of hookers and drug dealers, the meat packing was still a place to pack meat. I’m not sure they really considered what they were creating – hundreds of artists and their associates all living in one building. The vision of an inspirational space that would help make New York the art capital of the world, drawing the top talent from a far. What did they really expect? Back in it’s prime Westbeth Studios harbored arrivals from everywhere, welcoming them into the ideal of a new era in New York.
Word spread of the legendary parties and orgies that went for days, seeping from one studio to the next, fueling the creative outpour.
Word spread of the legendary parties and orgies that went for days, seeping from one studio to the next, fueling the creative outpour. With so much acid going around it wasn’t sustainable for everyone, it got the name ‘Westdeath’ in the 70s after a string of suicides swept through the building. Almost all of the current tenants had been here since then, and it showed on some of their faces. There were some great characters with brilliant stories, a dance studio on the top level and a gallery where the tenants could show their work. I’d hang on the roof and do tai chi sessions with Brian, an old sculptor who loved to point out the elderly women and talk about their sexual exploits from back in the day. He would bring up plastic seats from his place and we’d watch the dancers on one side and the Hudson on the other.
I didn’t spend a lot of time over this side these days, but it always a great mixture of people. No doubt this party wouldn’t disappoint.