Three signs hang outside neighborhood landmark Hotel Chelsea. The first, a small laminated sheet of paper, announces the temporary closure of the hotel. After Hotel Chelsea was sold to developer Joseph Chetrit, things changed. On August 2nd, the hotel closed to vistors and guests, isolating itself as a massive renovation began. Non-union workers tore out century-old infrastructure, along with decades-old artwork by the luminary former tenants. Chetrit’s vision is an Ace Hotel West, another upscale hangout spot for the cool and monied in the continued reinvention of Chelsea. As a result, the art had to go.
Only the longtime ex-Bohemian tenants can stay. Their rent is protected by law, but their residence is not. Two weeks ago, the hotel sent eviction notices to a few of the longterm rental units, and in response the tenants hired a lawyer. Meanwhile, renovating a building erected in 1884 has raised questions of safety for the tenants still inside.
Hotel Chelsea has had problems since its longtime manager, Stanley Bard, was ousted by the board of directors in 2007. Bard’s management style was as something of a curator, allowing artists and stories to develop around the hotel. After a few mismanaged years, the hotel was purchased by secretive real estate mogul Joseph Chetrit earlier this year.
Chetrit can reopen the hotel in nine months, a year after the union contract expires. Until then, the hotel will be undergoing renovations, overseen by architect Gene Kaufman. Kaufman seeks more retail space, while attempting to preserve the architectural quirks that make the hotel so interesting.
The second sign, on the lobby door, says, “No Photographs.” The lobby is bare, and in an alcove behind the guard’s desk lies a clutter of sculptures and artwork. A Chetrit spokeswoman issued a statement to the New York Times, saying “All of the artwork has been removed to protect, catalog and preserve it during the restoration of the building. Following the restoration, we will incorporate the artworks in some fashion and or find an appropriate venue in which to exhibit them.” While there is no reason to doubt the validity of that statement, the breadth and oddness of the previous artwork wasn’t just decor. The Hotel Chelsea art is not a marketable aesthetic, and doesn’t gel with any kind of intended ambiance that a renovation seeks to achieve. The art might stay, but it won’t be the same.
Around the hotel, the neighborhood is changing. Bloomberg just announced that the long-dormant Hudson Yards projects west of Chelsea will break ground on a 50-story high-rise, the beginning of what Bloomberg hopes to be a “domino effect” of development. The High Line, probably the best example of positive neighborhood development in recent years, was just donated $20 million for upkeep and extension to 34th Street. That, along with the on-schedule 7 extension, will irrevocably alter the character of the entire West side. The truth is that landscapes change, and the Hotel Chelsea is changing too.
The final sign hangs above Hotel Chelsea’s gaudy facade. Written in masking tape, on a third-floor window, it simply states, “BARD: ASK FOR.” When asked about it, the guard had no idea it was even there.