The New York Observer - 21st July 2003

Bowie's Bower

By Blair Golson

David Bowie, the grandfather of glam-rock, and his wife, the supermodel Iman, have bought a 64-acre mountain in a secluded area outside the onetime rock mecca of Woodstock, N.Y. Iman and Mr. Bowie fell in love with the property, known as Little Tonche Mountain, when he laid down the tracks for his latest album, Heathen, at a recording studio that sits atop the larger mountain next-door in the summer of 2001.

But it may be a while before they can turn Little Tonche Mountain into a retreat from the city. There are currently no buildings on the giant wooded property, and they have yet to file a plan to build a house on the land. Representatives for Mr. Bowie declined to comment on his plans.

The couple closed in late January, paying $1,162,500 for the vacant tract of land in Shokan, a hamlet neighboring Woodstock in the Catskills.

The mountain is next-door to Allaire Studios, a newly constructed studio on the grounds of a sprawling estate that an industrialist built for his family in the mid-1920's on Tonche Mountain, Little Tonche's larger sibling. Norah Jones, Joan Baez and Natalie Merchant have also recently recorded songs there.

While promoting the critically praised Heathen last summer, Mr. Bowie spoke at length about his experiences at the mountainous retreat - and in the town of Woodstock. They didn't fare equally well.

"I went into Woodstock once, and I hated it; it was just too cute for words," he told Interview in June 2002. "This is not cute, on top of this mountain: It's stark, and it has a Spartan quality about it. In this instance, the retreat atmosphere honed my thoughts. I've written in the mountains before, but never with such gravitas."

According to the broker who had the exclusive on Little Tonche Mountain, Mr. Bowie and Iman owe their purchase to a matter of extremely lucky timing. The broker, Jim Boyd of Westwood Metes & Bounds Realty, said that the couple's broker - who didn't return calls for comment - had been working with Iman for some time to find a suitable plot of land in the general area.

"She was looking for a property that didn't exist," he said.

So when Mr. Boyd brought Little Tonche to the market in September 2002 - the very same mountain range that had inspired Mr. Bowie to new creative heights - Iman's broker pounced.

"We had an offer within a week," said Mr. Boyd.

Mr. Bowie signed the contract under his birth name, David Jones. Mr. Boyd said he never met Mr. Bowie or Iman in the course of the sale, and thus had no inkling about their plans for the mountain.

Nor did the man whom Mr. Bowie's lawyer hired to survey the area.

"I assume at some point he'll build a home, but as of yet I don't know of any definite plans," said Bruce LaMonda, a professional surveyor who has lived at the foot of the Tonche mountains for over 30 years. Mr. LaMonda added that Mr. Bowie has "a fantastic view of just about everything in the area" from atop Little Tonche.

Until recently, both the smaller and larger Tonche mountains were privately owned by descendants of the industrialist Raymond Pitcairn. In the mid-1920's, Pitcairn built what he called Glen Tonche, the mountaintop estate on the larger mountain. In 2001, a photographer and musician named Randall Wallace and his wife Jackie established Allaire Studios on part of the estate. The main studio room there has soaring, 40-foot-plus ceilings and sweeping views of the nearby Ashokan reservoir.