Mark Twain and Bob Dylan slept at the Chelsea. Now, developers hope to lure tourists, but they have to soothe some frustrated tenants.
You can’t exactly roam carefree through the Chelsea Hotel these days, re-enacting its bohemian past, open wine bottle in hand, say, while taking a break from writing your generation-defining novel, song, or Netflix script. Even if you found the drilling and hammering, dust and debris, and exposed cables and pipes inspirational, the Chelsea has not booked a guest room since 2011.
For the past decade, the residence hotel on West 23rd Street, a New York character unto itself, has been suspended in a dreary state of endless construction, with a rotating cast of developers struggling to spin this oddity into an upscale boutique hotel.
Even as the pandemic decimates the city’s economy, closing scores of hotels, restaurants and stores, and leaving tens of thousands of New Yorkers unable to pay their rent, the 12-story Chelsea continues to exist in a world unto itself, one that seems to host a seemingly endless cage match where the building’s roughly 50 remaining tenants spar with one another or with the landlord who, in turn, battles with the city.
The story of the renovation of this 19th-century Victorian Gothic landmark (and the former home of Mark Twain, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith and countless other writers and musicians) is one of developers with lofty ambitions that ran headlong into a classic New York predicament: when scorned tenants organize, they can grind a multimillion-dollar project to a halt. And the tenants of the Chelsea Hotel, most of whom have lived there for decades, know how to put up a good fight.
But not all the tenants are opposed to the current plan — at this point, most of them would like to see this over and done with. “This is emblematic of the Chelsea,” said Samuel J. Himmelstein, a Manhattan lawyer who represents the Chelsea Hotel tenants association, a faction of residents who would like to see the work completed and the hotel open. “Everything with the Chelsea is major drama.”
The latest plot twist came in January, when