Hotel Chelsea Renovations Prompt Health Probe

By Mathew Katz on October 21, 2011 6:37am 

CHELSEA — The renovations underway at the Hotel Chelsea have prompted some of the few remaining residents to hire a lawyer and environmental assessment team to make sure they're safe while the landmark building is gutted.

A video obtained by DNAinfo shows some of the demolition efforts on the 222 W. 23rd St. building's seventh floor, including torn-up chunks of wall and dumpsters holding beams and insulation.

The video, which shows the hallway outside actor Ethan Hawke's former apartment, gives a stark look at the hotel's blank walls which, until as recently as the summer, were covered in artwork from residents both famous and anonymous. The sale of the building to developer Joseph Chetrit was finalized on Aug. 1.

Olmsted Environmental Services, the company hired to assess the renovation, did not respond to calls.

"[Olmsted] was there for hours yesterday, taking dust samples, examining conditions," said the tenants' association's lawyer Samuel Himmelstein. 

Tenants are concerned that the building, constructed in 1884, is so old that dangerous building materials could inadvertently be released by workers during renovations. The final results from the environment assessment should be available within the next few days, Himmelstein said.

"I cannot make speculations, but I know when I breathe the air, I don’t feel comfortable," said Zoe Pappas, an engineer and artist who lives in the hotel. "We could see the dust, we could see the debris coming through the elevator and through the lobbies."

Pappas has formed a tenant's group with about 40 other Hotel Chelsea residents. The hotel stopped taking guests over the summer, though long-term residents remain.

Michael Brown, a lawyer for Chetrit, could not comment on the renovations, saying they were still in the planning stages.

Gene Kaufman, the architect in charge of the work on the Chelsea, did not respond to a request for comment, though in an interview in the summer, he described the renovation as a "subtle" one.

One Hotel Chelsea resident, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of legal repercussions, said that the renovations, especially those on the seventh floor, were anything but subtle. The same resident feared the renovations would hurt the character of the building where Sid Vicious, Leonard Cohen and Uma Thurman once lived.

Extensive renovations are underway at the Hotel Chelsea, including actor Ethan Hawke's old apartment.
Extensive renovations are underway at the Hotel Chelsea, including actor Ethan Hawke's old apartment.
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Hotel Chelsea Resident

According to Department of Buildings records, the work includes redoing the hotel's floors, assessing the structural integrity of the walls, replacing plumbing and electrical fixtures as well as the heating and air conditioning system.

Pappas said she was not trying to stop the renovation, just making sure it's safe.

"This is not about our reaction to the building being upgraded. We are very happy about it," she said. "What it is about is respect for people who live here and for following the law."

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