Following Private Patti Smith Concert for Developers, a Flash Mob Is Planned at the Chelsea Hotel in Support of Tenants [Updated]


Last night Patti Smith was at the beleaguered Chelsea Hotel, playing what appears to have been a new-hotel-management-planned event to which tenants were not invited, but the architect and others were. New hotel management, for the record, is King & Grove, “a new lifestyle hotel brand defined by modern luxury with eclectic influences” (the photo at right is from last night’s event). Tonight, Smith is scheduled to perform for the tenants, a move evoking a flurry of criticism from none other than her intended audience. “It’s like a chocolate-covered cow pie,” said Arthur Nash, 39, an archivist and writer who has lived at the hotel since 2005, to the New York Times. “It’s momentarily sweet, but then you get right back to the cow pie.”

Smith has outlined the reasons for her involvement on her website, but her performance at the apparent behest of new hotel management does seem a hard pill to swallow. As Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York puts it, it’s still “hard to accept that Patti Smith is working with the developers who are gut renovating the Chelsea and evicting its tenants.”

Smith has written the following in explanation on her website:

My current involvement with the Hotel Chelsea began some months ago when I heard rumors that the hotel would be leveled. I was devastated and entered in a dialogue with the architect, through a mutual friend.

He assured me this was not the case and every effort would be made to save and restore the building, which was greatly deteriorating. Having witnessed the demolition and redevelopment of much of our city I was at least hopeful that the hotel would stand.

Since then my few efforts on behalf of the Hotel have been unofficial and uncompensated.

My dialogue has continued with the architect. My personal objectives have always been:

— To offer uncompensated advice as to the aesthetics of the renovation project.

— To council all concerned to develop positive communication with the rightful tenants.

— To be available in the future, without fee, in participating in the development and preservation of the artistic cachet of the hotel.

— To participate in the development of a possible artists-in-residence program.

My small performance for the tenants was my own idea. My hope is that we might have a nice evening and the opportunity to communicate directly.

I am an independent person, not owned or directed by anyone. My allegiance is to the Hotel itself, and I have done nothing to tarnish it. It is very difficult for me to embrace change, but my great hope is to witness the Hotel Chelsea find a strong and positive place in the twenty-first century.

While others may feel the same, there’s a definite conflict over methods used. Ed Hamilton, author of Legends of the Chelsea Hotel and the blogger behind ChelseaHotelBlog.com, responded to Smith with the following post:

If you are worried about the building being leveled, you can put your mind at rest — it’s landmarked and can’t be torn down. As for management efforts to save and restore the building there aren’t any. Instead they are gutting the rooms. We are worried about who the rightful tenants are going to turn out to be — obviously not the more than 30 who are being evicted and as for the artist-in- residence program, there are already plenty of those here.

We are glad that you aren’t taking compensation but you should not let the Chetrits use you for propaganda purposes.

If you want to give a concert for us great, but chose a neutral venue, one where Chetrit will not be sponsoring you.

We still think you should cancel your event in the ballroom.

As it seems the show will go on, there’s a protest effort in the works. Jeremiah of Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York writes:

If you’re confused, too, and you’d like to make a statement about all of this, but you’re not sure what kind of a statement to make, come to tonight’s flash mob. Lie down and “die in” in front of the Chelsea at 8:00 p.m., concert time, raising a lit lighter in the air and reciting the lyrics to “People Have the Power” (click for lyrics to print), then leave. If it’s still raining, turn to the hotel, light the lighter under your umbrella, recite the lyrics, and go.

Jeremiah tells us that the idea for the flash mob came from a conversation spurred on Ed Hamilton’s Facebook page. According to Jeremiah, “It was a spontaneous collaboration generated by social networking. Really, I have no idea if anyone will show up. People show up for flash mob pillow fights and to dance in MC Hammer pants. This is more serious — and the weather stinks.”

As for the hoped-for impact of the effort, Jeremiah says, “The Chelsea tenants have been fighting for themselves for years, trying to keep their homes and keep the Chelsea a creative, affordable, eccentric place. Why hasn’t there been a protest or an outcry by non-tenants? Why haven’t the people of the city come out to support the tenants and save the hotel from becoming a luxury destination? So I think it’s important to have actual bodies present, on the sidewalk, to just raise awareness and lend support.”

In related news, a current tenant of the hotel writes that the Chelsea Hotel Tenants Association will appear in court on January 19 in a continuing fight for proper standards of cleanup with regard to the renovation.

Updated: Via Sound of the City, we’ve heard that the concert for tenants tonight has been cancelled. The New York Times confirms that Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer for the hotel’s tenants association, was called by Smith tonight to tell him of the decision. We’ve reached out for an update on the flash mob scheduled for tonight and will add that information when we hear back.

Smith has updated her website with this statement:

January 12, 2012

In respect for the wishes of the Chelsea Hotel Tenants Association I have canceled tonight’s performance. My motivation was solely to serve the tenants. If this serves
them better, than I am satisfied.

Patti at the Chelsea [Jeremiah’s]
At Hotel of Artists, Skepticism Over a Show [NYT]