Plenty of Gloom at the Hotel Chelsea

Innumerable authors, artists and musicians have inhabited the iconic Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd Street over the years.

But laser hair-removal specialists?

“I did laser hair removal, I did laser acne, I did laser wrinkle work, electrolysis, facials; I’m also a filmmaker,” said 55-year-old Marta Rodriguez, who’s been zapping bohemians’ blemishes and unwanted hair follicles out of a tiny, third-floor studio in the old arty hotel for the past six years.

Yet no longer: “They threw me out!”

This past Friday, Ms. Rodriguez surrendered her keys to Room 307, glumly joining a growing list of assorted occupants who’ve been booted out of the Chelsea in recent weeks.

Hotel management apparently wanted musician Adam Rushfield out of Room 320 so badly that it formally agreed to forget his $14,106 in unpaid rent, provided that he left the premises by Feb. 29.

Cowboy-hat-clad painter David Combs, who owed more than $10,000, split town for Texas. “To their credit, they did give me a generous amount of time before they sued me,” Mr. Combs told The Observer.

Meanwhile, musician Jann Paxton, who is bedridden with cancer and several other serious illnesses, continues to face eviction proceedings after a benefactor who has been paying his rent for years got fed up with the hotel’s erratic rate changes and stopped accepting the charges altogether this past summer. According to court papers, he owes more than $30,000.

“I will probably die if I am evicted,” said Mr. Paxton, 46, who had been ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation because of “threats that he was talking about killing himself,” according to housing court records.

Unlike the others, however, Ms. Rodriguez wasn’t behind on the rent. She was simply in the way, as new management’s efforts to “reinvigorate” the Chelsea into a more modern Manhattan inn continue apace.

“I told them my clientele was probably going to be very beneficial to the new hotel, the new look,” she said. Management wasn’t interested.

Ms. Rodriguez felt shortchanged. She had planned to stick around much longer when she first negotiated a lease with longtime Chelsea Hotel manager Stanley Bard in June 2002, investing nearly $50,000 to spruce up the shabby studio space. “I put marble floors in the place, I put doors and closets,” she said. “It was a mess and I really made it beautiful.”

The beauty treatments continued long after her initial three-year lease expired. Call it a mutual understanding. The personable albeit unconventional proprietor Mr. Bard was sort of known for his informal management style—or, mismanagement, according to his critics—allowing struggling artists to get behind on the rent while finishing their masterpieces and reputedly even accepting artwork in lieu of rent, although he has formally denied it.

“It was kind of understood that I could stay there, that I could even maybe expand,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “I was going to do a little spa.”

Of course, that was before Mr. Bard’s overthrow last summer by rival hotel heirs David Elder and Marlene Krauss, who replaced him with corporate manager BD Hotels.

“The new management came in and said, ‘You don’t have a lease, you have to move out,’” said Ms. Rodriguez, who spent the past three months contesting her termination in housing court before finally deciding to move out and move on. “I didn’t want to spend the money on lawyers for another year of this,” she said.

Ms. Rodriguez had come to the Chelsea Hotel to cater to the touring musicians and film crews that frequent the place. “I wasn’t looking for the rich Upper East Side women,” she said. “I was looking for an artistic high-end clientele. And that’s what the hotel meant for me. It’s an offbeat clientele who also has some money, you know—that’s what I was going for; and the image I wanted to bring as opposed to a clinical dermatologist office on the Upper East Side.

“I don’t know that I can get this where I am now,” added Ms. Rodriguez, who will open a new laser treatment center, located two blocks away at 425 West 23rd Street, this week.

Plenty of Gloom at the Hotel Chelsea