Dancing Shoes at Home


Location Washington Heights

Price $265,000 in 1998 ($930 maintenance)

Square feet 2,050 (midsize apartment in 1911 co-op)

Occupant Michael Burke (lighting person for film/television)

Here we are at the Grinnell—so triangular and that 20-foot archway, the empty courtyard. I read that the site was part of George Bird Grinnell’s estate. He was “the father of American conservation” and the Grinnell Glacier is named after him. Schwartz & Gross were the architects, popular among the affluent and creating buildings for the rising middle class. The toilets are made by Grinnell. This was the dining room. Now there’s a stuffed emu. Here’s a sugar sculpture.

Let’s go on a tour in the early-morning light—ah, peacock chenille bedspreads, broken-glass angels, Judith Scott’s yarn sculptures, baby shoes made out of Camel cigarette wrappers by prison artists, a “Cooky Jar” folded from magazines and legal paper by the Golden Venture Chinese immigrants who were interned in Pennsylvania, and a book on Ghana coffins because you are ordering one in the shape of a Converse sneaker. Tell how you found the apartment. We were filming Gloria in the building, the original Cassavetes, in 1980.

She’s always drunk in the living room. No, that’s Under the Influence. Gloria is Gena Rowlands being chased by the mob because she takes this little boy who witnessed a hit. I thought it was just a really cool building. I had wanted to buy the place across the street. I went to the police department. They were not very enthused about the neighborhood then. At the time, I was living with two girls. I just filed this building in the back of my head. I moved to 104th and Central Park West and lived there for 18 years. At this point, 1998, real estate was going crazy again, so I said, I’m going to put my apartment on the market, I’m not going to be flexible, and seven months later, two bids came in an hour. I got even more than the asking price. Everybody said, like, Michael, you’re crazy, you’ll never find a nicer place. I had to go to New Orleans for Jazz Fest. Every year I go. I said, I’ll look for an apartment when I come back. I drove up to the Grinnell, left a note with the doorman—if anyone is interested in selling, please give them my number. This really became a long story but three months later, I ended up buying this. The money I sold my co-op for on Central Park West, I got this and a house in Louisiana. I flipped the one place and then I got two.

You sound like the guy in The Usual Suspects. “He’ll flip you.” Yeah. All my family lives in Jersey. I was born in Hoboken. My father’s a gaffer, my sister, my brother-in-law. A gaffer is the head lighting person. There’re all these cliques of gaffers—Italian, Jewish, Irish. They call my father Red. There’s Rusty, Kelly, Kenny. When I first came in, they called me Dancing Shoes.

Your girlfriend lives in Houston. We met in New Orleans. She has a jewelry store in Houston. She just bought a house. Last week I was in Texas painting her bedroom. I’m all over the ice when I’m not working. My wallet lives in New York—I do the lighting on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. My soul is in New Orleans. I went there in ’89 to work on Miller’s Crossing, fell in love—the music, architecture. At some point I knew in another life I was there. I was then involved in a relationship with someone down there. I worked on JFK, Pelican Brief. The prices of homes were so incredibly inexpensive in the early ’90s. I bought this one in the Lower Garden District, funky neighborhood. I started fixing it up and renting it out. My next-door neighbor was selling his. So I bought that, sister houses. They’re my retirement fund. My girlfriend and I have a house we rent in New Orleans ’cause we can’t afford the rent I charge. We live with this little air conditioner in the window.