Board member Ms. Krauss, the chief executive of KBL Healthcare Ventures, said a full evaluation of the hotel would be conducted before any changes were made. Two years ago the board told the Bards not to accept any new long-term tenants.“It’s been the plan of the board for a while to have more transient guests,”she said.“I think it’s been hard to maintain the hotel with as many long-term tenants as we have. We’ll look at things on a case-by-case basis.”— NY Times 190607.
As time marches on, we all get ravaged and wrinkled by the insidious currents and thermals of the post modern global winds of change. They can assume the properties of a juddering, screaming, tropical hurricane or the subtle light touch of sheer silk lingerie against ones skin.
Either way none can escape change. In particular the fluctuating will of the Dow Seng or the Hang Jones. Those internationally globular gambling casino’s whirr 24/7. Even the shitty one armed bandits never ever stop, unless their power supply is severed.
As the changes seep through generation to generation and culture to culture our responses to mutation, metamorphosis and rearrangement can often drag with cultural friction. Life’s gravitational pull jamming the cogs and wheels. All of a sudden you realise something has happened, and that it actually took shape, broke the mould, some time ago. Slamming the door shut after the horse has bolted can be an anguished reaction, or denial, as we scour the wreckage and try and put the puzzle back together, just like old times.
In particular, I was drawn to the recent shenanigans taking place in The Chelsea Hotel, Manhattan. I did a little homework, dug around and acknowledged that this counter cultural haven and artistic workshop of NYC had morphed, some time ago, into a shell ripe for redevelopment and renovation. A hotelier’s wet dream.
There has been a world wide outpouring of scorn, anger and gnashing of gummy teeth over the recent (badly handled) ousting of Stanley Bard, whose family have been involved in managing the Chelsea for the past 50 years. The end of an era in all reality took place some years back, in a different time in the same place. The current braying and bleatings, whilst well motivated and heartfelt, may just be falling on deaf ears. The door of The Chelsea Hotel was slammed shut some time ago, and what is taking place now is a clear out, to make way for the physical installation of the new rulers.
I talked with art terrorist, author and musician Joe Ambrose about the changes that have taken place over the years. Joe has a book out on November 29th about the significance of The Chelsea Hotel, its inhabitants and their tales.
Joe, history suggests that the Board of the Chelsea have been trying to modernize for a while, were you aware of any stirrings when you stayed there?
I think it’s a long time since the Chelsea Hotel was a focus for dissent or interesting art. When I was there the predominant people living there were prosperous Manhattanites posing as artists. People working in media, advertising, graphic design, the film industry, areas of life which run parallel to art, but which are not actually art. There were a lot of rich useless people there with lime green nail varnish and purple hair.
Surely not all the occupants read the same fashion magazine though?
There were leftovers from the old days and there have always been creative people of importance there. Herbert Huncke died there. Victor Bockris moved in after I left and if anybody was ever the real thing, then Victor is the real thing. But the Chelsea Hotel of popular mythology has been dying for a long time. All this whingeing about the changes from the so-called artists living there is just a pile of rich kid horseshit.
How do you understand the implications that the new management team will have on the Chelsea?
It means that an era which has been ending for a long time can now be officially declared to be over. And that is a good thing. Nostalgia is just a disease to which we’ve all become addicted, especially as it relates to activities carried out in the 60s and 70s. It doesn’t matter a shit to anyone except Stanley Bard and a handful of other people what actually happens to the Chelsea now. It doesn’t matter if it’s turned into condos. Manhattan is already full of condos. It’s not like they were renting out cheap rooms to struggling artists or something.
Years ago that was the case at the Chelsea though, wasn’t it ? Its been a gradual change then, not a wrench?
Stanley Bard did that at one time, for a long time, and in more recent years he has been presiding over something different, which is entirely his own business.
The musician Marc Ribot once said,
“I hate nostalgia, I want nothing to do
with it”, is that a sentiment you share, Joe?
I’m totally opposed to nostalgia. It goes against everything that I believe in, everything the Chelsea stood for in its heyday, everything that the Ramones mean. It’s a beautiful building in a city full of beautiful buildings. If it changes irrevocably, so be it. Stanley Bard, whose family have been involved in the running of the Chelsea for 50 years now has a somewhat nebulous role as ambassador following the new management takeover.
You interviewed him for your new book, did he mention anything about these potential changes?
No, but it was quite some time ago that we spoke. He is a pretty remarkable individual, entirely responsible for the Chelsea’s status as an art hotel. He went to art school and when he took over running the hotel from his Dad, he effectively began to curate it. Painters were his special thing and it was in that context that the place became associated with the Warhol crowd. It is rather unpleasant, the manner in which he has been usurped out of his hotel, and the way he was treated shows a certain lack of class and style on the part of the new Chelsea powers-that-be, as does the new website which scarcely mentions the hotel’s past. I guess Stanley Bard should have been left in position until he was ready to retire. He deserved that respect and courtesy. But then older people are treated with disrespect and discourtesy and indifference every day of the week.
I read that the rent arrears are being called in, amongst other directives, such as the barring of children in the lobby…
Bear in mind what kind of rent arrears we might be talking about. I think you’ll find that the people paying those rents were paying the likes of $1500 a week. So they’re not going to go homeless. And it’s not a civil liberties issue. It’s rich folks whingeing about the rent. I didn’t see too many children hanging around the lobby but bear in mind that this is a huge building. An apartment in the Chelsea housing a family could easily be the size of an upper middle class family home. The Chelsea Hotel is not something like a sort of art squat or a place of innate creativity like it once was. This is what the current inhabitants could have one believe.
That’s a very good point Joe, I agree, there are a lot of bullshit opinions flying around that may lean far too heavily on a flatulent sense of reality. Remind us of the vibe of the place while you stayed there, working on what would become the meat and potatoes of your new book?
It’s one of the most beautiful buildings you could possibly roam about. Huge long corridors and Victorian stairwells. Stairwells full of art , much of it appallingly mediocre. Like living in a small town full of eccentric people. Professional upper middle class people interested in the arts and talkative and inquisitive and nosey. Pretty stylish place insofar as it’d seen everything. The staff there then were pretty much unflappable and standoffish other than Bard himself who reigned in the lobby, was always on the phone, was a nice man to meet every day who always made it his business to have something to say to one. It was very comfortable in the winter weather with thick walls and good central heating. The toilets were not quite so reliable. There was nothing exasperating or uncut or plastic about the place. It was kind of classy and offbeat, like a lot of other things about New York.
Could you see the building being modernized to the point of a whole new re-design?
Yes, it’d adapt beautifully to a modern makeover because the basic building is a fantastic piece of architecture. You don’t get any sense of that from photographs of the place. None of them convey its majesty. A radical architect could do something fantastic there. Whatever else about the pros and the cons of the changes currently happening there, I think it is beautiful building which’d benefit from an overhaul. It definitely needed a bit of an overhaul when I was there. I don’t see any merit in keeping buildings looking old fashioned or in the sort of deliberate shabbiness that Paris pursues - and to some extent that New York pursues.
Is this change typical of the dollar hungry real estate vultures circling Manhattan then?
The change is just life.
The Living With Legends website has a very comprehensive list of who stayed and when, what went on, the comings and goings of its tenants as well as being a huge resource about the history of the Chelsea Hotel Manhattan. From its humble beginnings; its art squat days, basecamp to cultural outcasts, artists, musicians, writers and the misplaced pariahs who graced its lobby and rooms. It also tracks the recent changes, with lots of blogs and opinions, stories and anecdotes. Chelsea Hotel Manhattan by Joe Ambrose is published by Headpress on November 29th.