While the redevelopment of the historic Hotel Chelsea remains plagued by one crisis after another, some good news has finally surfaced for those concerned with its preservation. Following a nine-year legal battle spearheaded by Hotel Chelsea resident Arthur Nash, the building's management has pledged on record to preserve the apartment he currently occupies—the apartment where iconic poet Dylan Thomas, who is credited with inspiring the bohemian spirit the hotel is so well known for, stayed in the 1950's. The commitment towards its conservation is a preservation triumph in a storied NYC building that's being gutted amid a bungled luxury hotel conversion.
Nash's victory comes after a prolonged period of alleged tenant harassment and mistreatment. To put the apartment's preservation into context, an abridged—yet still lengthy—history of the Hotel Chelsea's redevelopment: In 2007 Stanley Bard, whose family had managed the hotel since the 1950s, was shoved out of his position by board members David Elder and Marlene Krauss, affecting the first in many management changes to come. Soon after, said partners started rolling out eviction notices to building tenants, and by the record of Nash, employing brute force and other unsavory methods to remove the building's remaining tenants.
In 2008, Andrew Tilley stepped in to manage the building and continued to serve eviction notices (and allegedly carry out more questionable tactics to coerce tenants into leaving) before giving up on the job in early 2009 citing tenant harassment. Meanwhile, the interior demolition of the storied building pushed on, as apartments like the one in which Bob Dylan lived while writing Blonde on Blonde were taken down to the studs.
The hotel hit the market in October 2010 after 15 of its shareholders decided it was time to sell the place. The building was reportedly eyed by hoteliers Andre Balazs and Ian Schrager, but it was developer Joseph Chetrit who scooped the aging landmark up in 2011. Chetrit announced his plans to keep the hotel a hotel, and make some subtle upgrades at the hand of architect Gene Kaufman.
In 2011, 34 Hotel Chelsea residents lobbed a lawsuit against Chetrit claiming that the renovations have led to dangerous conditions for tenants. That didn't sit well with Chetrit; he filed to evict 10 tenants who didn't live in rent-stabilized units within the building, opening them up to eviction.
It turns out Chetrit and Kaufman's renovation plans were not so subtle, yet the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved them anyway. In 2012 Chetrit tapped luxe hotel brand King & Grove, which latter rebranded itself as—surprise—Chelsea Hotels, to run the forthcoming hotel.
In March 2013, Chetrit was called out for blatantly harrassing building tenants. That ended when King & Grove bought the developer out of his stake in August 2013, with CEO Ed Scheetz stepping up to promise better tenant treatment. After a period of negotiations, tenants reached an agreement with Scheetz promising a 4.7-month rent abatement, a 20 percent reduction in monthly rent until renovations are complete, exemption from rent increases tied to capital improvements, and the payment of about $100,000 in legal fees.
Flash forward to March of this year, when Scheetz—a mere minority owner in the building—stepped down amid mounting financial stress (the renovation has cost over $130 million) and a bloated timeline. Majority owner Bill Ackman, otherwise known as one faction responsible for one of the city's most expensive condos, stepped up in the interim. Ira Drukier and Richard Born of BD Hotels eventually acquired Scheetz's managing interest.
Throughout the redevelopment of Hotel Chelsea, building tenants have cried foul over the legality of their treatment. Nash, an archivist and a vocal adversary of the hotel's conversion, told Curbed that he had tried to make nice with the rotating cast of managers throughout the years in so many ways. First with Chetrit, Nash agreed to vacate the hotel if he gave him a written contract filed with the court saying that the footprint of the room Dylan Thomas once occupied wouldn't be demolished in the renovation and would remain in its 1950s state. Chetrit blew the offer off twice.
By the third time Nash was willing to make it, Scheetz was in charge. To Nash's surprise, the King & Grove CEO was receptive to the offer. For ten months both parties negotiated the terms of the deal before contracts were sent out to seal it; but just one week after Nash sent out the paperwork for signature, he was lobbed with a lawsuit seeking access to the apartment in order to build a stairwell in its place. "It was a delay tactic while they prepped the lawsuit," he said. This sparked an impassioned public battle between Nash and the owners and developers, drawing supporters from all over. Nash countersued and legal shenanigans followed. The lawsuit was heading to trial when Scheetz split.
The turning point came when Ira Drukier of BD Hotels finally offered the legally-binding agreement that Nash had fought for for years. Drukier finally signed the court stipulations, a move that Nash, of course, praises. "Drukier certainly deserves acknowledgement for having the foresight to realize preserving Thomas's association with the hotel is something good for The Chelsea," he says, "It's easy to begrudge the future, mostly because it so often sacrifices our past. Drukier knows there's room enough for both."
The agreement will not only protect that apartment's footprint, kitchen, and bathroom, but will also preserve items that don't survive the forthcoming hotel's "final finish" like its door, which will be removed, restored, and displayed publicly in a future exhibition of Nash's orchestration called Stairway to Haven. "As outcomes go," Nash says, "I couldn't imagine one rosier under the circumstances."
To memorialize the famous unit, a bronze plaque will be placed on the wall outside of the apartment. It will read:
The court will also maintain the right to inspect the unit once a year for the next ten years. As for Nash, he will be vacating the premises soon.
Other iconic guests of Hotel Chelsea include Mark Twain, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Tennessee Williams, Leonard Cohen, and more.