New owners of Hotel Chelsea win Landmarks’ approval for alterations

The Hotel Chelsea

Despite opposition concerns, Chetrit Group gained approval to restore landmarked hotel’s facade and build rooftop addition to serve as a lounge. On April 24, 2012, Landmarks approved the Chetrit Group’s revised proposal to carry out exterior renovations and alterations to the landmarked Hotel Chelsea at 222 West 23rd Street in Chelsea, Manhattan. The 1883 Victorian Gothic hotel is notable not only for its architecture, but also for being a former home to a long list of notable artists and writers. Arthur C. Clarke wrote “2001: A Space Odyssey” while at the hotel, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan both memorialized the hotel in songs, and Andy Warhol used the hotel as the setting for his film Chelsea Girls. The Chetrit Group purchased the property in 2011 and plans to restore the hotel’s facade and build a one-story rooftop addition. Hotel Chelsea residents, neighbors, and elected officials opposed Chetrit’s proposal.

Architect Gene Kaufman presented Chetrit’s proposal at Landmarks’ April 10 public hearing. The plan called for  restoring the front facade, replacing windows, and altering the ground floor storefronts, which Kaufman characterized as a “straight restoration process.” To create uniformity, the previously altered storefronts would be changed to match the 1930s-style storefront of the Doughnut Plant’s existing commercial space. The non-original Hotel Chelsea sign would be retained and restored. The plan included installing planters on the hotel’s uninterrupted balconies to demarcate guest rooms. Kaufman said this would prevent hotel customers from entering the wrong room, which he characterized as a safety issue.  A non-visible, one-story greenhouse addition would be built along the hotel’s rear lot line.

On the roof, Chetrit proposed relocating an existing water tower to make room for a sixteen-foot-high rooftop addition, which would likely be used as a lounge. The gray-stucco-clad addition, which would be setback nearly twenty feet, would be partially visible from West 24th Street and Eighth Avenue. Because the addition would be built on a lower section of the roof, it would only rise eight feet above the hotel’s roofline. Other construction on the roof would include an elevator bulkhead, and a new cooling tower that would be visible from several street vantages.

Elected officials, residents, and neighbors testified in opposition. A representative of Assembly Member Richard Gottfried read a statement that reflected the combined views of Congressman Jerrold Nadler, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and State Senator Thomas Duane. The group criticized the choice of materials for the rooftop addition, and claimed the addition would cover the windows of some hotel residents. Representatives from Manhattan Community Board 4 explained that CB 4 supported the facade work, but opposed the rooftop addition, which would be too visible and used inappropriately.

The Chelsea Hotel Tenants Association’s Janet Ray Kalson argued that the addition’s construction would eliminate roof access for tenants, a privilege they had long enjoyed. The Society for the Architecture of the City’s Christabel Gough testified that Landmarks should ensure that the hotel’s distinctive roofline remained uncompromised, and that its unique balconies not be divided. One neighbor claimed that Chetrit had “completely gutted” the hotel’s interior, and decried the possibility of the addition being used for “one more Chelsea nightclub.”

Kaufman responded to the criticism by stating that the addition would cover less than 25 percent of the roof, and claimed that tenants and customers of the hotel would still be able to access the rooftop.

The commissioners had mixed responses about the proposal. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter found the proposed addition generally appropriate, but asked Chetrit to choose another cladding material. Vice Chair Pablo Vengoechea found the rooftop addition’s height excessive and said it did not respect the hotel’s peaked roof, dormers, and turret. Commissioner Michael Goldblum said the rooftop addition needed to be better integrated with the building’s architecture, while Commissioner Roberta Washington said the height of the cooling tower and elevator bulkhead needed to be addressed. The commissioners all agreed that the proposed balcony planters were inappropriate, and suggested that Chetrit use simple gates or chains if the balconies needed to be subdivided. Chair Robert B. Tierney asked Chetrit to return with a revised plan.

Chetrit returned to Landmarks on April 24, 2012 with a revised proposal reflecting a reduced rooftop addition and undivided balconies. The rooftop addition would be notched to separate it from the building’s central turret, and its height would be reduced by two feet. Grey metal would replace the stucco cladding. Kaufman presented pictures of the hotel’s storefronts from the twentieth century matching the Doughnut Plant’s storefront. Kaufman said that none of the original storefronts remained, but the Doughnut Plant’s storefront represented what the hotel looked like during its most socially significant period.

Chair Tierney recommended approval, finding that the revised plan addressed commissioner concerns. Commissioner Diana Chapin said she would prefer that nothing be done to the roof, but believed reducing the addition’s size and changing the material made it approvable. This assessment was shared generally by the majority of commissioners. Vice Chair Pablo Vengoechea still believed the addition would negatively impact the building’s central turret, and said it should be set back further.  Nonetheless, he joined the full commission in voting to issue a certificate of appropriateness for the plan.

LPC: The Hotel Chelsea, 222 West 23rd Street, Manhattan (12-7955) (April 24, 2012) (Architect: Gene Kaufman, Architect, P.C.).

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