Rock Musician's City Paradise
New York Times By Penelope Green Published August 17, 2003
For a guy who is on the road more than he's home, Richard Fortus, now a member of Guns N' Roses (the Axl Rose version) and the Psychedelic Furs, has still gathered a little bit of moss, including 40 guitars, a couple of thousand CD's, five tattoos and two cats.
Classically trained on guitar, cello and violin, Mr. Fortus, a slight, soft-spoken man of 36, has been touring since he was 16, when his band, Pale Divine, was signed by Atlantic Records. Last year he was out of town for nearly eight months, following a typical spate of work for Guns and the Furs, as the two bands are affectionately known, as well as for Enrique Iglesias, Britney Spears and others.
When it was all over, Mr. Fortus bought his first apartment, a two-bedroom with a terrace at Seward Park, one of the complexes that makes up the Cooperative Village, the former socialist and union enclave built between the late 1930's and the 1960's on Grand Street on the Lower East Side (and featured famously in the movie `Crossing Delancey,' as the home of Amy Irving's impish bubbe.)
"This is my first home," Mr. Fortus said on a recent Wednesday morning as the sunlight tumbled through a corner window and the cats, two male shorthaired orientals named Genghis and Kublai, pounced on things that weren't there. "It's the first time I've ever owned anything."
Mr. Fortus and his girlfriend, Jennifer Teichman, a model and photographer, had been living on Park Avenue, in a "dark, dreary and tiny" rent-stabilized apartment with a view into someone else's apartment, Ms. Teichman said. She had stacked the guitars in their cases in the hall; you had to sidle by them to get out the front door.
Ms. Teichman, who is 27 and from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., felt oppressed by the darkness, and by the attention she was receiving every time she left the apartment. Elegant and lovely, Ms. Teichman hails from a state where your car is your armor.
"You're not walking everywhere, as you do here," she explained. "I'd never experienced anything like it." She felt terrorized by the catcalls, and stopped wearing makeup and skirts. During one particularly onerous period, she didn't leave the house for four days.
WHEN the lease ran out, they couldn't find an apartment fast enough, though it seemed as if they had been looking forever. Certainly they looked all over, up and downtown, and even in New Jersey. Guns N' Roses wanted Mr. Fortus to settle down in Los Angeles, where Mr. Rose lives, but Mr. Fortus, who grew up in St. Louis and moved to New York City when he was 25, demurred.
"I knew when I got here I was home," he said, echoing the sentiments of changelings everywhere. "I never felt that sort of connection before." (Mr. Fortus's first apartment in New York was just a bunk at a friend's at 75th Street and Riverside Drive. Marianne Faithfull was the third roommate. "I didn't see her a whole lot," he said, "but when I did she was always very matronly. Like a princess, but in a good way. Always very regal.")
What Ms. Teichman and Mr. Fortus finally found, he said, was the last great deal in New York: one of the reconstituted apartments on Grand Street.
These apartments, built by and for garment workers — one complex is even called Amalgamated, and you'll still find a mural of Roosevelt (F.D.R., that is) in a lobby — shed their socialist links and hit the free market three years ago (that's what "reconstituted" means), rocketing up from a cap of up to $3,000 per room to as much as $450,000 for a two-bedroom.
Mr. Fortus paid $350,000 for his apartment — nearly one-third the price of a similar Village two-bedroom. His monthly maintenance is $560.
Getting a musician through a co-op board is no joke. Getting a guitarist from a famous rock and roll band through is nearly impossible. Jacob Goldman, a broker whose entire bread and butter is the stock upward of 4,500 units of the Cooperative Village, chose Seward Park for his client, who had walked in off the street one day, because that complex's board president is a musician.
Mr. Goldman, a voluble lawyer and broker, said he was struck nearly speechless when he realized who Mr. Fortus was. "I did a Yahoo search, and I started saying, `I'm not worthy, I'm not worthy,' " recalled Mr. Goldman, who is 32 and describes himself as a "massive Guns N' Roses fan."
"Anyway, to get him in the building, we had to work against the stereotype of the rock and roll musician," Mr. Goldman continued. "You know, boa constrictors and wild parties and all. So we had his former neighbors and his super write letters about what a nice quiet guy Richard is. And for the meeting with the board, I suggested a long-sleeved shirt for those tattoos, and a suit, if he had one." As it happened, Mr. Fortus's suit was in Los Angeles, but it turned out that he and the board's president were members of the same union, Local 802.
Cooperative Village is a neighborhood unto itself, and Mr. Fortus and Ms. Teichman's tenancy represents the latest evolutionary wiggle in its history. The children of all those socialists fled the area to the suburbs in the 70's and 80's, but by the 1990's, young Orthodox Jewish families were moving in, relishing the connection to a specifically Jewish past.
Today, there's another influx, of young New Yorkers like Mr. Fortus. The other day he made friends with a man in the building's new gym, as they found themselves bonding over their tattoos. "He said, `Hey, finally there's someone in here with more ink than me!' " Mr. Fortus said.
An elderly neighbor on their floor was a bit more standoffish, Ms. Teichman said: "She said, `You're the rock and roll band that's moved in.' But then she found out we had cats, and she snuggled up to us a bit."
Ms. Teichman, who models reluctantly to pay the bills, said she garners no whistles on Delancey Street, or in nearby Chinatown.
"Having a home has completely reordered our way of thinking," said Mr. Fortus, who added that he can't even walk into a restaurant without wondering how the floor was put together.
"We're both fixated," said Ms. Teichman, who found herself captivated by a friend's dentil molding the other day. "Thank God we have the same taste." Mr. Fortus gave her a sewing machine for her birthday; recently she spent a day sewing vinyl seat covers for the stools on the terrace and watching HGTV.
Mr. Fortus and Ms. Teichman are planning a stem-to-stern renovation sometime in the fall, a canny redo that includes opening up the galley kitchen and ripping up the floors. They'll tame the CD collection by transferring it to a computer. Most of the guitars have already moved to other quarters at Mr. Fortus's studio.
They've been buying things on the weekends: Indian art, Anglo-Indian furniture and the odd religious item, like a portable reliquary. They've mapped the renovation out completely, and designed it themselves. All they need is somewhere to bunk for six weeks, and a place to park the remaining 15 guitars.