Peter, Zoë, Dan, Laurie: Friends Form Retro $7.9 Million Commune

On April 7, a dozen New Yorkers–architects, writers and artists–feeling gouged by downtown Manhattan prices, bought a building together in Tribeca. They’ll share a mortgage and maybe even child care, creating what sounds a little like a modern-day artists’ cooperative. This being 2001, the starting cost was $7.9 million.

There’s architect Peter Moore, who’s been living like a nomad, moving from one Tribeca apartment to another with his wife and two kids. There’s writer Zoë Heller and her boyfriend, Sopranos screenwriter Lawrence Konner, and their daughter, who’d moved out to Brooklyn as a last resort. There’s photographer Laurie Simmons and her husband, painter Carroll Dunham, who’d left Soho a few years ago, only to feel like displaced Manhattanites in Brooklyn Heights. There’s painter Matthew Ritchie, sculptor Harry Rosenzweig, Seven Stories publisher Dan Simons and two other writers, all of whom Mr. Moore describes as the kind of people who made Tribeca what it is, but who are now basically priced out of the neighborhood.

A month ago, the friends–some are just acquaintances–became co-owners of 16 Desbrosses Street, a former shirt-fabric-manufacturing facility. The purchase was the brainchild of Mr. Moore, 43, who studied under Robert A.M. Stern before becoming a Tribeca-specific architect. Mr. Moore came up with the idea 10 years ago; he likes to work on small residential projects that friends–or at least people he likes–will eventually live in.

At his ground-floor office at 515 Canal Street, Mr. Moore, who grew up in Yorkville, described the situation as a solution to the problem of how to get by in Manhattan–which has become a struggle even for him and his upper-middle-class friends, the artists and creative types who used to be valued as the heart and soul of the city. “We can afford this, but none of us are swimming in dough,” he said. “People used to do this in the 60′s and 70′s, but they also tended to be 18 or 20 years younger than the average age of this group, which kind of reflects the harsh realities of New York real estate … the struggling upper-middle class. I don’t know how we could do this any other way.

“Now, the buyer [in Tribeca] is a well-heeled professional person, basically,” Mr. Moore continued. “There are vestigial pockets that are more creative, and there are sort of white, middle-class ghettos where the rent-protected tenants, who basically just won a Lotto ticket, are clinging on to this crazy ticket–so there’s some of that sense of time standing still. But not much.”

From his office, Mr. Moore can see the strange new building that he and his friends are now renovating into eight apartments. He describes the process as ” Survivor meets This Old House .” Mr. Moore took his first look at 16 Desbrosses Street 10 years ago; he’d wanted to rent and rehabilitate it in the then-fledgling trendy residential neighborhood. “I’ve always liked the building; it’s kind of quirky. It’s a turn-of-the-century building, and the façade was stripped in the 40′s, so the inside is tin ceilings and cast iron and oak, and the outside is a modern thing, which is very popular these days.”

Though that project didn’t pan out, Mr. Moore recently heard that the owner of the building, Tuvia Feldman, was leaving Tribeca. “It’s a very small neighborhood, with not that many buildings and not that many owners,” he said. “You get to learn the lay of the land pretty intensely. The last buildings [left to be renovated] are all like the last of the Mohicans.”

Of course, Mr. Moore knew Mr. Feldman. “I’ve known him for something like 10 years,” explained Mr. Moore. “He’s a New York story in himself: He drives around in a Rolls Royce, and he came from nothing.” They agreed on a price for the building and made a private deal. “People are throwing serious money around, so the very fact that a bunch of regular folks got together to do a building is pretty incredible. [The window on that is] pretty much shot now.”

No one else would describe Mr. Moore’s partners as “regular folks.” Said Mr. Dunham, who sells his lithographs on the Whitney Museum of Art’s Web site for up to $1,500 each: “We’d been looking for something with Peter for years, so it was not a new idea for us. It’s because of Peter’s resourcefulness that this worked out, and he knows a lot of people and he hears the best things.”

The owners have divided up the six-story building. Mr. Dunham and Ms. Simmons are building a duplex–a half of one floor as an apartment for their family of four, which will be connected to a studio on the floor below for Ms. Simmons. (Mr. Dunham will keep his studio on West 27th Street in Chelsea.) Ms. Heller and Mr. Konner are taking half of the top floor–2,500 square feet. And Mr. Moore is taking half of the top floor, and the roof, for a garden. “Nothing too exotic,” he said. Two other occupants will take whole floors of 5,000 square feet each.

“We’re in the midst of figuring out how to build out the space,” said Mr. Dunham. “But the idea is to try to get in there as quickly as possible. There’s a lot of work to do.”

One of the questions is how to deal with such a long, narrow building, which fills its entire 35-by-180-foot lot. There are windows only on either end of the long floors. “That presents its own design challenges,” said Mr. Moore.

Otherwise, the building is in terrific condition, Mr. Moore said. “It has old cast-iron columns and old wood floors. They’re in wonderful shape–practically just need a coat of polyurethane.”

That doesn’t mean the construction process has been easy. “It’s not just the work of the renovation; it’s all the steps, the legal steps, required to get through it,” said Mr. Konner. “So there are moments when you feel like it’s your full-time job. But if, at the end of it, I have this apartment for a reasonable wholesale price, it’s worth it.”

Mr. Konner said that, during all this, he has been warned not to read Ms. Heller’s column in London’s Daily Telegraph , in which she’s been chronicling the experience. In her April 28 installment, Ms. Heller explained how the renovation has triggered her “deco-phobia”: “My tendency is to assert some absolute but slightly eccentric preference and then, when questioned on it, to take umbrage and refuse to elaborate. I recently announced that I didn’t want any kind of kitchen cabinets because they were all ugly. When my boyfriend reasonably inquired where we were going to put the pots and pans, I became huffy and accused him of being ‘pedantic.’”

And while it doesn’t seem like anyone is about to get voted out of the building, Mr. Moore said that renovating a building with a group of friends can be a trial. “It’s kind of like the co-op from hell,” said Mr. Moore. “It’s not like there’s a board meeting once a month–there’s one every day.”

But Mr. Moore speaks somewhat philosophically about “working collectively”: “If only that model could be applied to development on a larger scale,” he said. “The idea of pooling child care came up, and that was in itself a compelling reason to do this project.” Two other reasons: The basement will be converted into a garage (a long-term plan), and there will soon be rent coming in when AZ Art Framing moves into the ground-floor space.

Then, presumably, Tribeca will be viable for a dozen New Yorkers. “Hopefully, this’ll be Sleepy Hollow. I don’t think I’ll be moving again,” said Mr. Moore. But he’s not ruling anything out. “Maybe we’ll all find a building somewhere else if the market stays strong, and we can make some money [on this building] and roll it over into the next one.”

WEST VILLAGE

A HELL OF A PLACE FOR A HONEYMOON: LIV TYLER’S NEW HOUSE Actress Liv Tyler found a husband; now she’s found a home. Ever since deciding to flip the 4,200-square-foot apartment she’d bought at the Loft, a new condo at 30 Crosby Street, last winter, the 24-year-old actress has been hunting for a Manhattan address. On May 17, Ms. Tyler signed a contract to buy a $2.9 million townhouse on West 11th Street, according to her publicist, Stephen Huvane of Huvane Baum Halls. Mr. Huvane said that Ms. Tyler was on tour with her fiancé, singer-bassist Royston Langdon of the band Spacehog, and could not be reached for comment.

The four-story, 3,250-square-foot townhouse, near West Fourth Street, has 14 rooms, five of them bedrooms. It also has south, north and east exposures. According to records, it was last purchased in 1995 for $307,500.

When Ms. Tyler, daughter of Aerosmith’s lead singer, Steven Tyler, decided to sell the Crosby Street apartment without ever moving in, her mother, actress Bebe Buell, told The Observer : “She wants her home to be the one place where she can find sanctity.” Unfortunately, her new house was divided into apartments when she bought it and will require a lot of work to convert into a single residence. Then again, being homeless has never been more glamorous: Ms. Tyler spent the early part of the year in New Zealand filming her next film, Lord of the Rings . According to Mr. Huvane, the work on the house may be finished by December, when the film is scheduled to open.

Meanwhile, Ms. Tyler’s fourth-floor apartment at 30 Crosby Street, home to Courtney Love, is still on the market with the Corcoran Group for $3.3 million.

374 West 11th Street

1,758-square-foot condo.

Asking: $1.95 million; selling: $1.95 million.

Charges: $716.

Time on the market: five months.

NOT-SO-WILD WEST? “These folks lived in the Jensen Lewis building [on Sixth Avenue and 15th Street], but they wanted the West Village,” said broker Alexander de Bordes of Eychner Associates of his clients, who bought this full-floor condo in January. The apartment, with its “flexible floor plan” (i.e., you have to put in the walls yourself), is in a new condo development on the West Side Highway and seems far from the noise and foot traffic of Chelsea. It has Hudson River views and easy access to the waterfront esplanade, which has helped make the neighborhood increasingly dignified and increasingly popular. Still, said Mr. de Bordes, apartments in the impressive development–and everywhere–are taking some time to sell these days. “Things are selling close to asking,” he said, “but it takes longer.” This one took six months.

SAG HARBOR, L.I.

RAOUL FELDER’S DIVORCE FROM THE EAST END WAS ACTUALLY ONLY A SEPARATION Last summer, when divorce lawyer Raoul Felder sold his house in East Hampton, he told The Observer that he was through with the East End. “East Hampton is fine,” he said, “if you could move it 60 miles closer to the city.”

He also said that he had never rented out his house, which he bought in 1980 on Three Mile Harbor Road, because he didn’t want to “sleep in a bed someone [else] slept in.”

That was before Mr. Felder, 67, was hired by Mayor Giuliani to represent him in his bitter divorce from Donna Hanover. A highlight: Mr. Felder recently said Ms. Hanover was “howling like a stuck pig,” and that the next Mayor would have to drag her out of Gracie Mansion from the chandelier.

On May 24, perhaps in order to escape the backlash from his public attacks on the city’s abandoned First Lady, Mr. Felder coughed up $540,000 for a brand-new condo on West Water Street in Sag Harbor, a 10-minute walk from the town. (Mayor Giuliani’s girlfriend, Judi Nathan, owns a similar condo in Southampton.) Mr. Felder had only seen the place in photographs, but two weeks before the deal closed, his 30-year-old daughter Rachel gave her seal of approval to the place.

“I like the town of Sag Harbor,” said Mr. Felder about his waffling on the Hamptons. “It doesn’t have the hustle and bustle of East Hampton, which is beginning to look like Coney Island on a bad night.”

He said condo life appealed to him, too. “I like that someone else has to worry about the swimming pool and tennis grounds. At my age, I have other things to tend to than all the drudgery.”

Mr. Felder’s condo comes complete with pots, pans, furniture, a stereo system and bedding. “Just like a hotel,” he said. “I can move right in.” There are 36 condo units in the complex, the only one on the waterfront in Sag Harbor.

Broker Andrea Ackerman of Dunemere Associates said the three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom condo, with decks off the master bedroom and living room, had recently been renovated “to the nines” and is “really, really cool.” “The finishes on the walls were hand-painted,” said Ms. Ackerman. “The floor in the powder room was all inlaid rocks from Japan.”

“Japanese modern is not my choice,” said Mr. Felder of the décor, “but I don’t have a problem with it …. But it is pleasant, particularly if you want to be a Zen Buddhist.”

Does Mr. Felder want to become a Zen Buddhist?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m a work in progress.”

UPPER EAST SIDE

1075 Park Avenue

Two-bed, 2 1/2 bath, 1,800-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $1.695 million. Selling: $1.5 million.

Charges: $2,004; 43 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: nine months.

A FINE MESS OF MEETINGS Selling an apartment can be quite costly, especially if the co-op board of your building is difficult. That’s what one couple found out when they were relocated to Hong Kong for longer then they’d expected and were forced to sell their apartment. For their first two years abroad, the co-op board permitted the couple to rent out their classic-six (two bedrooms and a maid’s room) apartment. In the beginning of 2000, the couple requested that they be allowed to continue to rent out the place, but heard nothing from the board for months. Finally, after repeated calls to the managing agent of the building, they were told that their request had been turned down months ago, “thus delaying the listing of the apartment for sale,” said the seller. It was annoying, but they weren’t furious–at least not yet. In April of 2000, they put the apartment on the market for $1.895 million. They didn’t sell the place until the following January, after lowering the price to $1.695 million and accepting a young couple’s offer of $1.5 million. The hopeful buyers rushed to submit their application to purchase the apartment before the board’s scheduled February meeting, but at the meeting one member of the board requested more information, which the board would then have to review at their next meeting. Then the March meeting was canceled for spring vacation, and the board did not meet again until April 9–but this time the board member who’d requested the extra information didn’t show up. In a state of panic, the sellers telephoned the board president and arranged for a special meeting on April 17. The buyers were approved after that meeting and the deal finally closed on May 7, but the sellers claim that the two-month delay by the board cost them plenty–not to mention more than $12,400 in maintenance and finance costs. The apartment is sold, but the sellers are still fuming.