New Beginnings



Neighborhood: Meatpacking District

“Careful with that!” I exclaimed to my new husband, Harry, as he carried my Art Deco stained glass window up the stairs to our new apartment. I had gotten the window, a gift from my parents, when I married Harry in 1967. We were both so excited to move into an apartment over a diner in the Meatpacking District, where we would live for two years until we divorced.

The apartment was at 69 Gansevoort Street between Washington and Greenwich Streets. It had a fireplace and wood paneling. There was an extra bedroom that Harry would use as a studio. He was an artist and, at the age of twenty-six, already made a living from his paintings. His style was a cross between Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper. How could he fail?

The neighborhood was desolate during the daytime, but at night it came alive with trucks delivering meat, and transvestites and transgender prostitutes. I was delighted to have the R & L Diner downstairs. It was an authentic diner, probably from the 1930s, and had quilted aluminum walls and a beautiful large circular clock. I loved not having to cook and just running downstairs to grab dinner for us.

One night I got really pissed off. It was almost dinnertime, and I was hungry. But Harry was not in his studio. “Harry?” I called. No answer. I found him downstairs, eating alone in the diner. He could have at least told me, so I could have joined him. That was an example of our communication. What do you expect from an Irish Catholic who became a Zen Buddhist?

The men working as meat packers were very protective of me when I returned home at night. They reminded me of the Italian mafia, and maybe some of them were. The streets were coated with fat and grime from the meat, and I walked very carefully in my yellow platform heels. The shoes went perfectly with my black bell-bottom pants that I had bought in a sale at Mays on Union Square. I always felt safe on my block.

The marriage didn’t last, and Harry kept the apartment. I left and moved into a studio on Bond Street off Second Avenue with Harry’s Aikido instructor, a third-degree black belt named Ken.

The R & L Diner, which had been frequented by butchers and longshoremen, changed owners and became Florent. Artists and theater people flocked there, and the neighborhood had a new beginning. I sometimes think that Florent is what started the change of the Far West Village.

In 1970, the Bell Telephone Lab building was converted into an artist’s residence called Westbeth, because it was on Bethune Street off West Street. Now, with the High Line and the Whitney Museum, the Far West Village is the most expensive zip code in all of New York.

I recently heard that the city will be installing 5G towers on Gansevoort Street.

I am so glad I knew it way back when.


Joan Hall is known as a pioneer in the field of collage illustration. She has also published two poetry books and is the recipient of The Miriam Chaikin Award for poetry in 2018. She’s lived in Westbeth Artist’s Housing, NYC since 1971

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