All of the residents of the Hotel received a letter in their boxes late last week. Though it sounds like they just want to clean out the trash, the halls of the Chelsea have always had a more casual, lived-in feel to them. Some residents have turned the space outside their doors into pleasant little sitting rooms or galleries. Though we never let the place get so cluttered that people were tripping over things, Stanley was always tolerant of this kind of individual expressions. Furthermore, as many residents have enjoyed this privilege for years and even decades, they may well have legal standing to challenge BD’s Draconian edict. (Also, where’s the old stationary, this is the pits!)
In addition, work is now being done on the historic “Hotel Chelsea” neon sign that adorns the façade of the building. The workers have been not only cleaning, but also painting parts of the sign, (as you can see, they only painted the “Hot” on this side.) apparently with the goal of making it more reflective, so that the neon will shine brighter at night. I spoke with a resident involved in the restoration of the building, and he argued that they were cleaning up and restoring the building to its original grandeur, and that, as opposed to Stanley's policy of benevolent neglect, this new direction actually shows more respect for the building.
There is much to be said for this view and there is a part of me too that would like to see the place restored. On the other hand, however, it seems that the darkness and grit of the Chelsea is a large part of its charm. Sure, if something is falling apart it needs to be fixed – Stanley always recognized that. But what era is the Chelsea famous for? Surely not the 19th Century when it was a luxury apartment building. No more like the 50s of the Beats, the 60s of Warhol, and the 70s of the punks. “It looked like a flophouse before,” said my fellow resident. But in a sense, it was. That’s how all these artists could afford to live here. The Chelsea is the most famous flophouse in the world.
“You could hardly see the sign before,” my fellow resident said. But 23rd Street is not Times Square, nor – a certain giant pink cupcake notwithstanding – Disneyland. You could always see it well enough in its dark understated glory.
And besides all that, if this “beautification” campaign takes hold, sooner or later they are going to want some prettier, and richer, people to match the surroundings. -- Ed Hamilton