By James Maher
Name: Eric Paulin
Location: Tompkins Square Park
Time: Thursday, Nov. 3 at 6:30 p.m.
In part 1, Paulin, a native New Yorker, discussed coming to the East Village starting in the summer of 1968 to see shows at the Fillmore East.
I’ve been in my building since May of 1979, so I’m coming up on 38 years. I’ve had some bad experiences with a couple of bad landlords in this neighborhood who owned my building. When I moved in, there was a great and extremely interesting person who owned the building named Kent Cooper. He was an East Village hero in my opinion. He was a writer, and he owned a small record company. They recorded jazz, blues, avant-garde jazz and blues-rock. He ran the record company out of his apartment.
Everybody on the block respected Kent. He did a lot of people favors. Kent bought the building for an extremely good price in the early 1970s, and he was actually struggling at the time. It was a lot of money for him; he had to take out a bank loan, and he worked tooth and nail to keep that building going. He would do repairs himself, and he did whatever he could.
If tenants were late on rent, he would give them a break. He would let me work off rent sometimes by doing superintendent duties, or by helping him and a couple contractors do work. He had a big heart, especially for creative people who were struggling or having a hard time — who weren’t using drugs, weren’t drinking ... who were just basically trying to fight the good fight with their creative pursuits.
Unfortunately, Kent sold the building in February 1987 to an extremely bad landlord. They started a renovation process in the building that should have taken six months or less. It was basically a gut renovation of 10 units and there was myself and another older gentlemen in the building. The renovation ended up taking 13 or 14 months, and the owners and contractors put myself and the older tenant through a living hell.
I was in housing court with them from mid-summer of 1988 until late fall of 1991. Because I was a freelance musician, I would do a gig, get home sometimes at 2 or 3 in the morning, sleep for a few hours, and then put on a shirt and tie and go to housing court with my documents, my HPD reports and my photographs. I was very organized. The whole thing was an excruciating process.
We were able to withhold our rent and put it in an escrow account, which the judge approved. In the end, I ended up winning the case, and I got what they called a landmark decision against my landlord, which was a decision in a court of law where that combination of elements had never come together to form that kind of case, therefore getting a certain decision on that case. Because it was a pretty cut-and-dry matter, it should have been solved in a few months, but because the landlord was dragging out and was not showing up to court and was constantly lying and trying to deceive the court and even their own lawyer about what happened.
In the spring of 1991, the building went into receivership because they weren’t paying the bank. So they weren’t paying their bank; they weren’t paying their lawyer; and they also weren’t paying their contractors who worked in the building.
So I won my court case, but about a year and a half later, I was in court with the next landlord, who actually turned out to be a very decent landlord, and a much better landlord than some others. We resolved that case out of mutual consent, and we were able to work it out between us without any problems. They offered me money to leave. It seemed like a lot of money at the time, and it especially would have been to a lot of lower income or struggling people, who might have taken the buyout. But I didn’t do it, because I thought to myself, I love New York, and if I leave, there’s no way I’ll be able to come back and be able to afford to live here.
My first experiences playing music in Tompkins Square Park go back to 1981. The park was dangerous and there was a lot of crime. I would walk through here because I knew how to handle myself in the neighborhood, and because people knew me, but the drug dealers were using a lot of homeless people to help them sell drugs or whatever. We used to play different places in the park, me and three or four of my jazz buddies. I think people appreciate that there’s jazz in Tompkins Square Park, where all these great jazz musicians lived in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
In those days, we actually used to do very well busking. We used to busk in Washington Square Park in the late 1970s with a jazz quartet and jazz quintet. We were one of the first groups to do it. In those days, I could just go on forever busking, and you could actually make very decent money busking in the late 1970s and early 1980s, because you didn’t have a lot of laws.
Today, we have a permit with the MTA, the Music Under New York Program, and when we don’t have a gig, we can been seen playing in the subway once or twice a week, where I also play with my jazz quartet. We play usually either on Friday or Saturday night, usually at 34th Street and 6th Avenue or Times Square.
My wife is also in the group, which is named The Meetles. We started from a meet-up group where we would talk about the Beatles. We specialize in classic rock ... and it’s nice to bring that to the East Village, because a lot of that was born and developed because of the Fillmore East and all of these great clubs all up and down St. Mark's Place.
In the end, I hope that the East Village and all neighborhoods like the East Village retain their original character and identity. I love walking up and down the streets in New York and seeing the old buildings that have been up for 120 years. I love Tompkins Square Park. I love the old architecture. I love the old timers who have interesting stories to tell. I love the creative people and the interesting people.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.