I always miss my former editor Larry Lerner, who left in February — but never more than when the subject of the Hotel Chelsea comes up. Long before I arrived, Larry had made the famous artist’s denizen a second home; with the help of his camera, his terrific prose and the hotel’s own Ed Hamilton, he charted its ways and the diverse group of artists and writers still within its walls. And when the big story arrived — the sudden expulsion of beloved owner-manager Stanley Bard by fellow shareholders– Larry knew its soul and got it right.
Now, it looks like Big Story #2 has arrived, and I’m completely unprepared.
Of course, the Chelsea wouldn’t deserve the name if it weren’t in upheaval, though in the past year rock and roll drama (think Sid and Nancy) has been of late replaced by Chelsea’s surreal real estate dance. shareholders. Last July longtime owner Bard was replaced by BD Hotels, the brainchild of boutique hoteliers Richard Born and Ira Drukier, and a host of changes followed, including ominous eviction threats from the new 28-year-old manager. Numerous tenants have complained about BD’s sluggishness in performing repairs, according to longtime residents Ed Hamilton (of the hotel’s blog Living With Legends) and Linda Troeller, whose exhibit on the hotel’s artistic history opened this week.
And BD’s renovations, said Troeller, did not match the vision of Bard’s daughter Michelle, who “was always so careful when she upgraded the rooms, in choosing which of the artist’s work belonged in the space. BD was more like one of those European spas – kind of cookie-cutter.”
So what’s the new Big Story? I only found it first through Ed’s invaluable blog: the hotel’s board has ousted both Travis and BD. “[Board member] Marlene Krauss has filed a suit against them. We think that her reasons for firing them are that they are losing money and not fixing the place up,” Ed Hamilton writes.
According to Hamilton, BD at first contested its firing in court, claiming in its defense that since last July its management increased net operating income of the hotel by 225%, revenue per available room by more than 35%, occupancy from 73% to 88%, and room nights sold by 41%. But on Monday BD withdrew its petition, leaving the hotel currently without a manager at all.
Rumors that longtime shareholder David Elder would be taking over have met with high scorn from Hamilton. who points out that a long-running lawsuit by author Piri Thomas is seeking to have Elder removed from the hotel’s board entirely. Meanwhile Troeller, when I called her this afternoon, would say only that Elder had been “very kind last December, when we knew nothing” and helped her secure the hotel’s ballroom for this week’s exhibit. “I’m not that privy to the real estate gossip,” Troeller added. “But it’s clear that BD didn’t share the vision of the hotel – for so many years, we has leadership that made this place somewhere that welcomed artists, so much so that when Christo and Jeanne-Claude arrived in the 1980s, they only knew one thing: ‘The Chelsea Hotel’….Now,” she said, “We don’t know what it will be like.” Troeller suggested that the hotel’s new direction might take a page from the Lloyd Hotel and Cultural Embassy, the 75-year-old hostel in Amsterdam now turned boutique hotel, called by Guardian UK “a riot of creativity” that showcases top Dutch designers such s Marcel Wanders and Jurgen Bey. “That owner turned the first floor into a gallery,” Troeller said. “You can do a lot, if you have vision.”
All of which is very diverting, but leaves out a lot – like Ed’s last-minute discovery of asbestos at the hotel, and whether the web of housing-court precedent being set by the losses of last year will mean to artists trying to live in this town. And all of it leaves out the history of the place itself, and what it has meant to generations of New Yorkers.
A big story? No story, because too diffuse? I’ll figure it out in the next few weeks, I guess (Meanwhile, my least favorite story has just done the fizzling into air that many expected..)
Update, May 17; After I wrote the above, things kind of exploded. Here’s the story I wrote about it all….