A few years ago I received an email from a reader in response to an article I was researching for this paper. “I happened to see your request in WestView about work at the West Street location of Bell Labs during the Second World War,” he wrote. “Fortunately for you, I was a member of the technical staff from 1952-1987, though I never worked at West Street.” His name was C.G.B. Garrett, he lived at 45 Fifth Avenue, and he was most helpful, suggesting a number of sources that included a seven-volume history published by Bell Labs in 1976: “Go to Amazon.com. From the shopping list pick out National Service in Peace and War. The pages you want are from 346 to 351.”
He then provided some tantalizing information that contradicted nearly everything I had read or heard about the wartime history of the building now known as Westbeth. Although I was intrigued, the deadline loomed and the article I was writing was already too long. I responded with thanks and a suggestion that we collaborate on a follow-up article, but when I phoned him several months later his number was no longer in service. Nevertheless, I did go on Amazon, pored over the sources he recommended, and what I learned about those years continued to intrigue me.
This summer, alarmed over current events that seemed to be repeating the history of 80 years ago, I pulled out my Bell Labs research file and started reading. When I came upon Garrett’s e-mail I got goosebumps. Clicking on my search engine, I learned that Charles Geoffrey Blythe Garrett had spent his last years in East Hampton, where he died in 2017. I also discovered that he was not just “a member of the technical staff” at Bell Labs Murray Hill, as he had so modestly informed me, but director of the company for twenty years.
It’s time to tell his story. Beginning with the October issue, a series of articles will commemorate the many extraordinary people who lived or worked in our neighborhood during those years, unsung and mostly forgotten, their “contributions of immense importance” (Garrett’s own words) to the defeat of fascism, and how their accomplishments provide a road map for a way out of the mess we’re in.