Sad, but not terribly surprising, news on the increasingly greedy New York real estate front: a new management company has wrestled control of the storied Chelsea Hotel in a plan to generate obscene revenue from the landmark, either by (potentially) gutting it and turning it into condos, or renovating it as a luxury boutique hotel. To quote another Leonard Cohen song, “that’s how it goes/and everybody knows”…at least in the city nowadays.
What’s truly unnerving is the displacement of manager Stanley Bard, ousted by the board on his 73rd birthday. According to the Hotel Chelsea Blog, Bard has managed the property since 1957, when he took over from his father, making the hallowed haunt a home for artists like Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, and on and on, ensuring that the Chelsea was a bohemian mecca, a refuge for like-minded kooks and musicians, authors and drunkards, famous or not.
Of course, the news has sparked an outpouring of grief and lamenting in the comment section of the blog. One commenter referred to the Edgar Lee Masters Poem, “The Hotel Chelsea,” which seems eerily prescient.
Anita! Soon this Chelsea Hotel
Will vanish before the city’s merchant greed,
Wreckers will wreck it, and in its stead
More lofty walls will swell
This old street’s populace. Then who will know
About its ancient grandeur, marble stairs,
Its paintings, onyx-mantels, courts, the heirs
Of a time now long ago?
(Full text here.)
And while the real estate bubble will burst (someday, maybe, hopefully) the damage will already be done. I’d hate to think people will forget the very reason that the Chelsea had any meaning in the first place, reduced to a hot destination for the hotels.com set.
“Why are we staying here again?”
“Who knows, I think a bunch of artists used to live here. But look, we get wi-fi and hot stone massages.”
For me, at least, the Chelsea was more than a trendy zip code, it was a destination, a touchstone when I moved to the city. To know I could walk by, walk into, even stay in, the same hotel that housed everyone from Dylan Thomas and Thomas Wolfe to William S. Burroughs, and served as a point of inspiration for everyone from Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol to Leonard Cohen, makes it more than just a location. It’s a haven. But then, I’m a sentimentalist. I’m a romantic.
If it were just the Chelsea, I may be able to grudgingly accept fate. But it’s not. It’s the Plaza. It’s any location that can be redone, remodeled, remade into some facsimile of its former glory, trading on a name and a past in the name of the almighty dollar.
A gutted Chelsea hotel, remade and rebranded, may turn a hefty profit. But it’s not likely to inspire anyone to create any lasting work of art. I guess it’s a matter of what you value more, artistic heights or the bottom line.