At 6:20 on Monday evening, Hawk Alfredson hauled one of his haunting portraits, wrapped in plastic, into the lobby of the Hotel Chelsea on West 23rd Street.
One of the hotel’s many artsy denizens, Mr. Alfredson, a seven-year resident, said he hoped to hang the six-by-five-foot painting alongside the hotel’s already sprawling collection of canvasses, sculptures and other installations, which adorn the halls and stairwells and lend the landmark 12-story Philip Hubert-designed brick building, erected in 1884, its distinctive gallery vibe.
But who’s curating?
For nearly 50 years, Stanley Bard was the guy in charge of fostering and maintaining the hotel’s reputation as, in the words of author Denise LeFrak Calicchio, “a cauldron of creativity.” Yet, one month after the legendary hotelier’s highly publicized ouster, residents and guests alike apparently still need reminding that Mr. Bard is no longer the go-to guy.
“TO PREVENT CONFUSION PLEASE BE ADVISED STANLEY BARD IS NO LONGER THE MANAGING AGENT OF THE CHELSEA HOTEL,” according to a large handwritten sign on an easel behind the check-in counter.
Throughout the evening, the signage served as a constant joke to passersby in the lobby. “We were completely confused until we saw the sign,” said one woman, sarcastically. “I’m still confused!” remarked another. “This place is nuttier than ever,” quipped one gentleman.
Part of the confusion stems from the fact that Mr. Bard, 73, still shows up for work every day. By 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, he was already making the rounds, coffee cup in hand, mingling with people in the lobby. Meanwhile, his 41-year-old son, David Bard, manned a computer in the family’s office off the lobby. This, despite the fact that both men technically got fired weeks ago.
The new managers, residents have complained to The Observer, aren’t around all that much. At least not yet. The hotel staff, for the moment, remains the same.
“I don’t even know who the new management is,” noted one resident, who stubbornly refused to accept the recent regime change. “They’ve never introduced themselves to me. I’ve seen some strange faces around the lobby of the hotel, but until I receive an official notification and verification of who these people are, I’m opposed to having any dealings whatsoever with these alleged new managers.”
“I believe in hands-on management—they don’t,” Mr. Bard told The Observer. The hotel’s new management, spearheaded by BD Hotel moguls Richard Born and Ira Drukier, sends over a representative “about an hour and a half every day,” he said, to issue staff directives.
That doesn’t mean, however, that no one is looking over Mr. Bard’s shoulder. In fact, he claimed, he’s now being “spied on” by one of the hotel’s owners, David Elder, who recently moved onto the first floor.
“He follows me around,” Mr. Bard said of Mr. Elder. “If I go upstairs to help someone—say, the light’s broke—he gets upset. If I go and turn the circuit breakers on, he gets upset: ‘You were told to stay out!’”
Mr. Bard has good reason to be suspicious of Mr. Elder. After all, it was he who first challenged Mr. Bard’s controlling interest in the hotel via arbitration and thus triggered the process that ultimately led to the popular manager’s firing in June.
“Residents hate him,” Mr. Bard said—which might explain some recent high jinks.
This past Friday, an NYPD bomb squad was reportedly called to the hotel on a report of a suspicious package addressed to Mr. Elder. The box, it turned out, contained a fish head, reminiscent of a scene from The Godfather.
Mr. Elder did not respond to messages left at the hotel, but a source close to him confirmed the scaly details: “Yes, they delivered a fish head—they also left excrement outside David’s door.”
MR. BARD AND MR. ELDER have a long history. Mr. Bard’s father and Mr. Elder’s grandfather were business partners: David Bard and Joseph Gross, who, alongside another partner, Julius Krauss, purchased the hotel back in 1945. Six decades later, the heirs are now fighting over the Chelsea’s future.
“David is there to watch that things are being done properly,” said the late Julius Krauss’s daughter, Marlene Krauss, a medical doctor and chief executive of KBL Healthcare Ventures. “Frankly, it’s time that somebody watched what Stanley is doing.”
The shake-up at the Chelsea Hotel came after a corporate arbitration three years ago, initiated by Mr. Elder, which ultimately resulted in transferring managerial control from the majority shareholder, Mr. Bard, to minority shareholders Dr. Krauss and Mr. Elder—albeit only for a finite amount of time.
According to Dr. Krauss, the dispute involved Mr. Bard’s “exorbitant” salary, as well as questionable sales of stock in the company and ownership of the hotel’s vast art collection. In the end, an arbiter ruled that the art belongs to the hotel itself—not to Mr. Bard—and further ordered the Bard family to reimburse the hotel’s coffers to the tune of more than $900,000. The ruling further shifted oversight of the hotel’s operations to Mr. Elder and Dr. Krauss for a period of 10 years, after which the Bard family regains its majority rule.
To hear Dr. Krauss tell it, the entire hotel operation under Mr. Bard has served as an excellent example of how not to run a conventional business.
“The company is so badly mismanaged,” said Dr. Krauss, who pointed out that she once attended Harvard Business School. “If you were gonna do a Harvard Business School case on mismanagement, this would be the case. There are no financial controls. There’s no business strategy—just total mismanagement.”
She pointed to the hotel’s longstanding restaurant tenant, El Quijote: “They have a 40-year lease. Nobody has a 40-year lease!”
She pointed to errant bookkeeping: “It took us over a year to get the rent histories.
“He doesn’t have the ability or desire to run this like a normal business,” she said of Mr. Bard.
Yet, given his charisma and his reputation in the artistic community, new management offered to pay Mr. Bard a full salary to stay on as a sort of consultant, while writing his memoirs—just so long as he stayed out of operational matters, Dr. Krauss said. Four weeks after drawing up the papers for the consultancy, Mr. Bard has yet to respond. Instead, he’s been altering reservations and interfering in recent rate changes.
“I really want to work things out,” said Dr. Krauss. “But it’s sort of getting hard to.”
MR. BARD JUST DOESN'T seem keen on taking such a passive role.
“You go speak to any tenant, they’ll say that the Bards are the Chelsea Hotel, they’re the heart and soul of the hotel, they created the hotel,” he said, pulling out a stack of letters from supporters, including a note on Mr. Bard’s current situation—“this sucks,” signed by one Marisa Tomei.
Indeed, publicly, residents profess nothing but love and admiration for the man behind New York’s most eccentric hotel. Privately, however, many confess complaints, including preferential treatment for certain residents and high rents for others, as well as alleged housing violations.
Mr. Bard attributed the criticism to residents’ lawyering up over fears of their own removal. He vowed to stay on the premises “to protect the hotel’s integrity, that’s why I’m here,” he said.
Dr. Krauss, meanwhile, stressed that the new regime has no plans for a wholesale artist eviction—just widespread renovations: “There is a great history here. There’s a great physical structure. We would like to clean it up. It needs a lot of cleaning up. We’d like to repair leaks. We’d like to get new heating, new plumbing systems. Our feeling is it could be the most interesting, respected hotel in New York.
“If you read the reviews of the hotel,” added Dr. Krauss, “they’re kind of bad. It’s kind of embarrassing.”
A one-night stay in Room 218 on July 23 cost $179 plus tax. (A cheaper room, sans bathroom, was listed at $109.) Every piece of furniture in the unit looked ancient—save for the 36-inch Samsung flat-screen TV, which made arcade noises when it shut down. Every 10 minutes or so, the ghostly toilet loudly belched.
“I want to pass it on to my kids,” said Dr. Krauss. “I’m embarrassed to pass it on to them now.”