Westbeth Artists’ Housing

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New York, NY
United States
Westbeth Artists’ Housing

Landscape Information

Bell Telephone Laboratories Complex

This building complex, which occupies an entire city block framed by West, Bethune, Washington, and Bank Streets in Lower Manhattan, for more than half a century once housed one of the world’s most prestigious telecommunications research organizations. In the 1880s, a neoclassical factory building designed by architect Cyrus Eidlitz was constructed on a part of the block for the Western Electric Company. The complex was further expanded in 1925 while becoming Bell Telephone Laboratories, jointly owned by American Telegraph & Telephone Company and Western Electric Company. From 1931 to 1934, alterations were made to the Washington Street section of the complex by the architecture firm McKenzie, Voorhees & Gmelin to accommodate a New York Central Railroad elevated freight railway that ran directly through the building. After Bell Telephone Laboratories vacated the property in 1966, Roger L. Stevens, the first chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, proposed turning the buildings into affordable housing for artists. From 1967 to 1970, architect Richard Meier laid out a plan for 384 residential and studio units along with commercial, rehearsal, and display spaces, and designed a communal park with a central planting bed surrounded by sixteen concrete seats as a gathering place for the community near the southwest corner of the property. An existing courtyard in the northern section of the complex was opened to the sky via the removal of two upper floors and the roof. The surrounding apartments feature semicircular steel balconies, which allow tenants to engage with the courtyard space below. The project is considered one of the earliest examples of adaptive reuse of industrial buildings in the U. S. In 1975, the complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark.