Thursday, February 16, 2012

Chelsea Rooftop

The new owners of the Chelsea Hotel plan to put a rooftop extension with a bar on top of the bohemian icon--and they've applied for a two-story scaffold to go up there. Last night, the Community Board 4 Landmarks Committee held a meeting to hear the Chetrit group's proposal.

Sherill Tippins, author of the upcoming Dream Palace: The Extraordinary Life of the Chelsea Hotel, reported on her Facebook page that the event was "packed with concerned residents and people from the neighborhood," but the actual hearing was postponed "because the owners refused to say what they wanted to use the new rooftop structure for."

Living with Legends reports that the owner and architect "had lots of pretty pictures that didn't reveal much. When questioned for further details, the group proceeded to stonewall the Committee." DNA Info reported that a lobbyist for Chetrit said of the rooftop construction, "That could mean a bar. That could mean a lounge. That could mean a spa."

So goes the ongoing battle for the hotel's rooftop.

all photos: 2007, my flickr

In 2009, the new manager at the time told Rolling Stone, "I'd love a rooftop bar here," and announced to tenants that he would seize the roof's flourishing gardens. Ed Hamilton at Living with Legends called this harassment to get the 10th-floor residents to move and the first step in putting in a club. Soon after, hotel management destroyed the gardens--taking chainsaws to the roof forest, planters, and vines, to the honeysuckle, Virginia creeper, and lavender.

I have visited the Chelsea's roof just once, in 2007, before the gardens were destroyed. I never posted the photos I took, but now seems like the time.

It was a misty October morning when I climbed to the roof, not the greenest time of year, and the flowers had long finished blossoming, but there was a vividly lush jungle up there.

The roof was a maze of corridors and stairways. Between architectural pyramids and parapets, vines swooped over trellises, cascading down into sequestered gardens marked by rickety furniture and doors painted with fantasy landscapes.

A pair of hammocks hung between the brick chimneys, waiting for warmer weather and lazy days.

Today it's cluttered with construction. But I never went back to the Chelsea roof. This is how I want to remember it, as a dreamscape, a strange retreat from the world, quietly humming with life.

Imagine this all gone, destroyed, chainsawed into pieces. Imagine what is coming to replace it--another thumping luxury lounge, another place for the masters of the universe to feel above it all.

But maybe there is hope after last night's Community Board meeting. Sherill Tippins told me, "It was inspiring and exciting to see the residents of the hotel, the Chelsea Hotel's neighbors, and the members of the community board recognize and defend the value of this iconic building. I feel so much more confident now that this community, as well as the structure itself, has a chance of surviving the trauma of this change."

See more of the Chelsea roof and its view on my flickr.


JAZ said...

Wow, a rooftop bar; How novel! Now Carrie Bradshaw finally has a reason to set foot in the Chelsea Hotel.

Anonymous said...

Funny that you frequently comment on the suburbanization of your New York such as in but this rural idyll for the cool kids gets a pass.

Perhaps if a bar is built here someone without the right connections will enjoy a glass of wine under the stars after a long week of work, and that will be the greatest tragedy.

Unknown said...

"But it was the roof, [Chelsea architect] Hubert suspected, that would most please the occupants of the Chelsea. Here, high above the dust and noise of the growing city, he had created a pleasure-ground for the residents’ private use..."

The roof was designed to serve the residents as a community space, and has served that important purpose for more than a century. Would you invite people to construct a commercial establishment in your back yard and have people getting drunk and partying outside your windows?

Anonymous said...

@anon 11:43

How do haphazard rooftop gardens created by tenants contribute to the suburbanization of the city?

Caleo said...

Anon 11:43- What in the hell are you talking about ?
You are obviously a Master of the Universe, or hope to be one someday soon, after a mind numbing journey through corporate hell that you call a career, all in the hope of getting to mingle and swing and enjoy a glass of wine with the " right " people on yet another rooftop lounge.
Your lame attempt at denigrating a wonderful rooftop garden in an historic building is laughable at best.

Anonymous said...

11:43 here...

I think it's a beautiful space... I was just struck by the contrast. The most mundane shit is decried as suburban on here... wearing sandals, walking and talking at the same time, not locking a bike, but here someone has recreated bit of the simple life and we all coo.

@Caleo - I am a lowly file clerk in khakis and a crumpled polo shirt from an unfashionable outer borough. It's funny that you feel entitled to comment on my career without knowing what it is.

I happen to love rooftops and open air bars, and I love that I can access them for the price of a glass of house red.

I must admit that I have little sympathy for NIMBYs who cannot move to another apartment because their stabilized rent is too cheap to match elsewhere.