If you learned about the ongoing struggle to save the Chelsea Hotel from today's Morning Edition of NPR, welcome. And, in case the NPR piece left you with the impression that the Chelsea's troubles were a new thing, you should know that the struggle to save the Chelsea has been going on for four years now, ever since the Bards were ousted in a hostile take over. Over 40 people have been evicted in those years, as a dedicated group of activists have struggled to maintain the Chelsea as a haven for the arts. There is a lot of information about the Bring Back the Bards campaign on this blog, but in this post we'll talk about what's been happening since the Chelsea Hotel was sold to a group of investors led by Joe Chetrit.
Chetrit's first move when he took over was to bust the union and to hire non-union workers to manage the desk and clean the hotel. We now have a skeleton staff and although they keep the place reasonably clean there is no engineer at night, which leads to problems when the water gets turned off. They've taken all of the art down from the walls of the Hotel, including, the more valuable paintings by artists such as Larry Rivers, Donald Baechler, and Phillip Taaffe. Although some of these paintings belong to tenants at the Hotel, and were simply on loan to the Hotel, tenants have been required to prove ownership in order to get back their paintings (and as far as we know no one has managed to reclaim their paintings as yet). And, of course, most obvious to outsiders the Hotel is now closed to tourists. So if you stop by they will throw you out.
There have been two evicitions that we know of since Chetrit took over the building bringing to 42 the total number of evictions since the Bard family was ousted. We expect more to come, as tenants have been receiving a lot of hostile certified mail, including various pay up notices. Also many tenants have had their rent checks refused. This is a common tactic of harassment used by NYC landlords, and though a judge will eventually order them to accept the checks in most cases, it allows them to get tenants in court. This is a tactic that is most effective against the elderly who may not understand that their rent has not been paid and may spend the money.
The Chelsea Hotel is now in the process of being "gently renovated," to quote Kaufman. Workers have been gutting the East wing of the 7th Floor for the past few weeks. This wing was probably chosen because there are no remaining tenants on that wing, the last being Willem Van Es who died tragically in December 2009. Past tenants of this wing include: William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, John Giorno, Michel Auder & Viva, Ethan Hawke, Librettist Arnold Weinstein, William Balcom, Jacques Stern, Gus Hall and Ben Lucien Burman. (Thanks to Sherill Tippins for the list.) We have not received too many complaints about noise or dust, though one tenant was flooded as the result of the construction. (Dedicated readers of this blog can probably guess that it was none other than tenant activist Arthur Nash, way down on the 2nd floor.) From what we've seen the work seems to show little regard for the historical integrity of the Hotel. It's anyones guess as to which wing of the Hotel will fall prey to the jackhammer next although, as Chetrit has 77 million dollars in loans to pay back, he is probably on a pretty tight schedule. He has been unloading a lot of properties lately and should have some ready money at hand.