Hotel Chelsea Tenants Create Charity Fund to Save Other Historic Buildings

By Mathew Katz on June 29, 2012 12:45pm 

Hotel Chelsea.
Hotel Chelsea.
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Flickr/andrewmalone

CHELSEA — Tenants at the Hotel Chelsea want their experience fighting to preserve their building to help those battling to save other landmarks around the city.

Advocates from the historic hotel at 222 W. 23rd St. have formed a new nonprofit, the Chelsea Hotel Tenants Association Historic Preservation Charitable Trust, to raise awareness, educate the public and help defend other buildings with historic and artistic legacies that may be under siege by developers, they said.

"The Chelsea Hotel Charitable Trust started out of a Greek tragedy," said Zoe Pappas, who heads a tenants association at the hotel and is one of the chief organizers of the new organization.

"But it started because we do believe in art and culture and these buildings and what they mean. If there are other buildings where there are issues and they don't know what to do, we can help them like we did in the Chelsea."

For nearly a year, close to 100 Hotel Chelsea tenants have fought a contentious battle with the building's new landlord, Joseph Chetrit, who is in the middle of an extensive renovation.

Tenants said the construction has caused a myriad of health problems, which judges have ordered Chetrit to fix, and many fear that the hotel that emerges from it will be more geared toward a nightlife crowd than to the bohemian artist culture that thrived there for decades.

In April, the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission approved a modification to the outside of the hotel, which tenants rallied against. The approved plan — which includes a controversial rooftop addition that's likely to become a bar — was reduced in size because of tenant outcry.

The trust plans to share the tenants' experience with other buildings that might need help learning how to advocate their position before community boards, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, or other city agencies.

The organization will also raise awareness of artists and art coming from those buildings.

Pappas already has her sights set on St. Vincent de Paul Church, a 170-year-old French church that faces closure. Church supporters have tried for years to convince the city to landmark the building.

"We want to team with those people to create more awareness, in tours and education," Pappas said.

"We want to talk not only about the architecture, but also the political environment, the social environment of when it was built."

To get the ball rolling, the new organization will host a $150-a-plate benefit auction at the Player's Club on July 17. The auction, run by Bonhams Auctioneers, will feature art made by Chelsea Hotel tenants, including work by Bernard Childs, along with ceramics and jewlery.

Pappas said the fund hopes to raise tens of thousands of dollars from the event, which capitalizes on the Chelsea Hotel's heyday.

The event is likely to be the first of many at the club, said Pappas, who said she plans to use her membership there to host other money and awareness raising events there for other beleaguered buildings.

"We want to offer that chance to people, because a lot of people don’t have that knowledge," Pappas said.

"A lot of people are scared by people who have the money and the connections. But they don't have to be."

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