Welcome both to old friends and to those new to the site. Since we haven’t been posting much lately, we thought an update would be in order.
Musical Churls: Changing Ownership of the Chelsea Hotel
In June of 2007, the Bard family (headed by the inimitable Stanley Bard) who ran the hotel as an artistic mecca for 60 years, were ousted by minority shareholder Marlene Krauss, the former Hotel Chelsea plumber’s daughter who wanted to cash in on the super-heated real-estate market; in 2011, Krauss sold the hotel for $81 million to Joe Chetrit, a billionaire Moroccan real estate developer who proceeded to lay waste to the historic building; and then, just this past year, Big Joe in turn palmed off the place to King and Grove honcho Ed Scheetz, of Las Vegas tabloid infamy.
By the way, Chetrit also snatched dozens of paintings—donated or loaned by resident artists over the years—from the walls of the lobby and stairwell of the hotel. Who knows what has become of these artworks, some worth big money, but most of them valuable only for their connection to the Hotel Chelsea.
Hard Rock Hell: Destruction and Renovation of the Hotel Chelsea
By 2007, Stanley had just completed a modest, historically sensitive, 10-year renovation project on the common areas of the hotel. He was also in the process of slowly renovating some of the rooms. When Krauss took over, she attempted to fast-track the destruction/renovation, but the Department of
Buildings quickly put an end to this ill-conceived effort. Chetrit, however, didn’t mess around: he brought in a non-union demolition crew that tore down walls and ripped out original fixtures and woodwork, gutting historical rooms such as the ones where Thomas Wolfe and Arthur Miller lived and created.
Besides that, Chetrit partially installed new electrical, plumbing, and heating and air conditioning systems—none of which, however, is yet working.
Despite all the sound and fury, Chetrit completed renovation on only a couple of model units on one wing of the hotel, the 7th floor east. The offending architect, Gene Kaufman, is famous mainly for designing Holiday Inns, and the result, as you can see from the photo, is predictably chintzy. Though Scheetz’s resume as manager of the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel may raise some eyebrows in chi-chi design circles, he reportedly realizes that the 7th floor east is a disaster, and intends to redo it. For this he has retained several new vendors including David Belt (DBI Construction Consultants) and Marvel Architects.
Goodbye Redbrick Road: Evictions
Since Krauss took over in 2007, approximately 66 residents in 55 rooms have been evicted. Most of these tenants were artists, writers, actors, or others in the arts, and some of them were unable to find affordable housing in Manhattan, thus contributing to the ongoing cultural impoverishment of New York. Though evictions have slowed down recently, Scheetz still has a number of tenants in housing court (most of them originally sued by Krauss or Chetrit). The good news is that approximately 87 of us in 57 rooms still remain, and we aren’t giving up easily.
Chelsea Hotel at the End of the Universe: The Future
If there’s a Rock-n-Roll Heaven, it will have to put its stars up in some other hotel for the foreseeable future. In other words, don’t look for this place to open back up anytime soon. The last I heard was that Scheetz was telling people that the Hotel Chelsea will reopen in Summer 2015, but, even if he’s willing to commit tens of millions of dollars to buy rent stabilized tenants out of their apartments, that date seems unrealistic. The hotel is an absolute wreck: bricks and masonry exposed, metal frames lining the halls, wires and pipes hanging from the ceiling, gutted rooms boarded up with plywood, sidewalk sheds clogging the hallways, plastic over everyone’s doors in an effort to keep out the dust. And since Scheetz has taken over, “construction” (deliberately slow and disruptive under Chetrit, and often amounting to little more than harassment) has almost ceased entirely.
The plan, of course, is to turn the Hotel Chelsea into a boutique hotel with a trendy club on the roof and a lounge in the lobby, but don’t call for reservations yet. The situation could change at any time, however, so stay tuned. -- Ed Hamilton