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Lost in Art: John Lennon’s Misadventure at Westbeth Artists Housing

<Excerpt from New York Offbeat Walks: West Village>

Continue along Bank Street to reach the junction with Washington Street. On the northwest corner is (34) the Westbeth Artists Housing complex. This incredible site originally comprised of 13 buildings was constructed for Western Electric in 1868, and later taken over by Bell Laboratories in the late 1890s. Demonstrations were held here of the first talking film, the binary computer, TV broadcasts and the condenser microphone. Today it is hard to imagine the hyper-gentrified Village being the site of the biggest industrial research complex in the country, but for many years that was the case. Scientists at Bell Labs were also involved in secret research for the Manhattan Project that produced the first atomic bombs.

Bell stayed here until 1966. The empty buildings were then turned into live-work spaces for hundreds of artists and opened in 1970. It later incorporated performance and rehearsal spaces, and became home to a number of cultural organizations. The photographer Bob Gruen was a Westbeth resident and good friends with John Lennon and Yoko. In June 1975 Lennon came looking for Gruen’s studio at Westbeth and got lost inside the complex. He was approached by numerous artists living there looking for Lennon’s input and when he eventually found Gruen’s apartment he remarked “Man, you’ve got some weird neighbors.” Gruen would take some of the most iconic shots of Lennon, including the one in which he wears a t-shirt that says “New York City,” taken on the terrace of Lennon’s East 52nd Street apartment.

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