State Sen. Tom Duane's Co-Op in Penn South

 Location Chelsea
Price $12,775.06 ($558.12 maintenance)
Square feet 600
Occupant Tom Duane, state senator

You wanted to live in Penn South so badly, you waited 16 years!
Let no one think I got special treatment. When I joined the Democratic Club in '79, people said, Get on the list. I finally did in '84, the smartest thing I've ever done. But I wasn't called to see any apartment for 15 years. Last year I got a letter saying there's an apartment but if you don't look at it in 10 days, we're taking you off the list. Even though I wasn't crazy about it, I said yes. If you refuse three times, you go to the bottom of the list. But I didn't get that one. Then there was one on the second floor. I'm a little afraid about security, that someone would get up on a ladder and shoot me, though usually it's politicians who kill other politicians rather than citizens. During AIDS demonstrations, I get a lot of phone calls. So I refused that apartment, but then I got this one last November.

How did you feel? Elated?
First of all, I'm Irish, and I wouldn't be in touch with my feelings anyway. But it was like a dream come true. Especially because I believe in the mission. It's just wonderful to live in a co-op where, twice, the people have voted to keep it affordable and not take the profits and run.

State senator Tom Duane on the sofa in his Penn South co-op
photo: Jay Muhlin
State senator Tom Duane on the sofa in his Penn South co-op

The last vote was just a few weeks ago. Everything about the complex is progressive. It was sponsored by the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.
They have co-generation. When gas is cheaper, they use gas. When oil is cheaper, they use oil.

A study in the early '80s identified Penn South as a NORC, a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community. Why should anyone leave? The lobby was pretty lively today. Some of the original residents were lined up on a bench talking about the matters of the day. You've lived all over Chelsea since '76.
First on 18th—then I gave up rent stabilization for love. Later, I was in the private sector and bought a co-op on 16th and Sixth. But I always felt more like a tenant than an owner. Co-op owners can get very involved in discussions of what the lobby should look like. That's not exactly my thing. In this building, I'm a cooperator, not an owner.

You were raised in two center-hall Dutch colonial houses—your father worked on Wall Street—with three brothers. This was in Flushing, though you said in your world what was more important was the parish a person lived in.
If my grandmother was talking about someone, she'd say, Oh, they live over in St. Kevin's. We lived in St. Andrew's. Whitestone is St. Luke's. Then they added St. Mel's. Jackson Heights is . . .

Enough! Your partner, Louis Webre, who works at Doyle, the auction house, said until this new apartment, your decor was mostly boxes, posters, and political buttons.
Ah, yes! CANDU, that's Chelsea Against Nuclear Destruction United, then, of course, Pass Intro One, Pass Intro Two, Pass Intro Seven, No Nukes . . .

You got all pink and animated when I brought up the buttons.
I had to send them to my mother's house, because Louis made me. Louis lives in a rent-stabilized building on the Upper East Side. I've leaned very heavily on him to decorate. I want him to be happy when he visits.

Louis is very excited about feng shui. He explained how he had one wall in each white room here painted a color—aquamarine in the hall because it's the color of a pool and in feng shui, running water is good as it stirs up the chi with regard to movement. Then the yellow in the living room stimulates conversation, perfect for politics. I forgot what he said about the green in the kitchen. You've taken trips to Cuba, collecting Cuban paintings.
The two on the walls are my favorites—old cars. Here are two more, Cuban bulls. Louis said it's good feng shui to have a pair.

 
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