Westbeth designated

Former site of AT&T’s Bell Laboratories was converted to live-work space for artists. On October 25, 2011, Landmarks designated the Bell Telephone Laboratories Complex, now known as Westbeth Artists’ Housing, in the Far West Village as an individual City landmark.

The complex comprises five buildings on the block bounded by West, Bethune, Washington and Bank Streets. The complex was built between 1861 in 1926, and stands as a rare example of 19th century industrial architecture. AT&T’s Bell Telephone Laboratories used the complex as a research facility for nearly seventy years, until relocating to New Jersey in 1966. The complex’s primary architect was Cyrus Eidlitz, a Jewish- Austrian émigré and noted designer of industrial and institutional structures. The buildings are generally neo-Classical in style and clad in buff brick. In the early 1930s, the complex was altered to accommodate New York Central’s construction of its elevated railway, now known as the High Line, through the third floor of 51 Bethune Street.

In 1968 the National Endowment for the Arts, with funds provided by the J.M. Kaplan Fund, converted the complex into an artists’ colony with 383 live-work spaces, a gallery, and a performance space. Architect Richard Meier oversaw the conversion, which was his first major project. Meier lived in the complex, as did choreographer Merce Cunningham and photographer Diane Arbus, among other artists. 

At a January 2010 hearing, elected officials and preservationists supported designation. A representative of Westbeth supported designation, but expressed concern about how it might affect Westbeth’s mission of providing affordable housing for artists. 12 CityLand 7 (Feb. 15, 2010).

At Landmarks’ October meeting, Steven Neil, Westbeth’s executive director, addressed the Commissioners. Neil pointed out that Westbeth was in the process of renovating the complex, and that Westbeth’s community was “pleased and gratified” by Landmarks’ recognition.

The Commissioners unanimously supported designation. Commissioner Michael Goldblum noted the complex’s significance as an early example of a largescale adaptive reuse project. Addressing the complex’s cultural significance, Commissioner Fred Bland noted that the work that was carried out on the site had contributed to the greatness of industrial America.

LPC: Bell Telephone Laboratories Complex, 463 West Street, Manhattan (LP-2391) (Oct. 25, 2011).

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