Piri Thomas, born John Peter Thomas in New York City's Harlem Hospital in1928, grew up poor in Spanish Harlem and wrote the now classic best-selling autobiography “Down these Mean Streets” about his childhood there. Among his other works are: "Savior, Savior Hold My Hand", "Seven Long Times" and "Stories from El Barrio". A true artist and social activist who worked with drug addicts, Piri is a former Chelsea Hotel resident and a friend of the late painter Herbert Gentry.
Thomas married Betty Gross in the 1970s. This second marriage lasted until Betty's death in 1985. Betty Gross is the daughter of Mr. Joseph Gross, one of the three partners who bought the Hotel. The other partners were David Bard and Julius Krauss.
Thomas’s last years were clouded by a legal dispute with his step-son, Chelsea Hotel minority shareholder David Elder. Basically, Thomas was the beneficiary of a trust administered by Elder, granting Thomas the income from 16 shares (8%) of Chelsea Hotel stock. (The trust was established by Thomas’s wife and Elder’s mother, Betty Gross.)
In 2002, Elder withheld $1.2 million dollars in hotel income from Thomas, claiming that the money was part of the principle of the shares. Elder had a vested interest in doing so, since upon Thomas’ death the shares reverted to him. While the courts ultimately decided in Thomas’ favor, the dispute went on for years and no doubt cost Thomas much in mental anguish and money to resolve. The dispute can be seen as a kind of warm up round for the main event, which was Elder and Marlene Krauss’s hostile takeover of the Chelsea Hotel and subsequent ousting of long-time manager Stanley Bard.
NY Times obit -