Elder Strikes Back at the Chelsea Hotel

This reporter was witness to some tense moments at the Chelsea Hotel over the weekend, including a verbal confrontation (pictured above) at the front desk between hotel vice president David Elder and hotel tenant Arthur Nash.

No punches were thrown, but the incident clearly spooked Mr. Elder. In recent days, a new security detail has been patrolling the hotel’s lobby and hallways. The hulking guys in suits have been particularly attentive to Mr. Nash.

The initial standoff happened during the second night of a photography exhibit entitled “Chelsea Hotel Through the Eyes of The Photographers,” scheduled to coincide with the historic hotel’s 125th anniversary. But it also came at a time of lingering tensions inside the iconic lodge.

Mr. Elder is at the center of the controversy. It was his 2005 lawsuit that ultimately resulted in the highly-publicized ouster of longtime manger and majority owner Stanley Bard. Thus, he has taken the brunt of some residents’ anger. “Greed” has been scrawled on his door; excrement left on his doormat—someone even sent him a dead fish in the mail. And, the hotel blog, Living With Legends, has fervently chronicled Mr. Elder’s long-standing California court battle with his elderly step-father, the writer Piri Thomas, over more than $1 million in dividends reaped from hotel profits.

“I’m not doing an interview,” Mr. Elder said on Saturday, mingling with guests just one night after he was chased from the exhibit hall by a masked doppelgänger dressed in a hotel bathrobe. (A stink bomb had earlier disrupted the show.)

Mr. Nash, meanwhile, is perhaps the hotel’s most fervent activist opposing the new regime. Banners reading "Bring Back The Bards," among other messages, hang from his balcony over 23rd Street. If he was feeling particularly cocksure on that evening, perhaps that’s because he had just beaten the landlord in housing court only a week earlier.

Mr. Nash, a curator by trade whose own exhibit of artifacts from the nation’s execution chambers goes on display in Washington, D.C., this month, later explained his intentions to the The Observer: “I never got physical with him at all or threatened to get physical. I only wanted to know where he’d put Piri’s money and make the point publicly that the residents don’t feel he belongs here.”

Mr. Elder soon fled out the front door to Star Lounge, downstairs from the hotel, as Mr. Nash followed. A bouncer stepped between them, allowing Mr. Elder to escape into the bar while Mr. Nash exchanged harsh words with the bouncer.

“David’s a good guy,” Star Lounge owner Charles Ferri said, as Mr. Elder commiserated over a Shirley Temple. “I think people just misunderstand him. Once you get to know him, he’s a good-hearted person who wants to do the right thing for the hotel, cleaning it up and making it nice but still keeping that old-school mentality.”

But Mr. Elder’s bizarre night was not quite over. After stepping outside briefly, he returned with a security guard. Someone had dumped some sort of liquid from a balcony above, the bouncer said, as Mr. Elder wiped off his head.

The security staff immediately suspected Mr. Nash, of course, although his apartment is located on the opposite side of the hotel. They called the cops.

When police arrived, stun-guns drawn, firefighters were already there. Someone had called to complain about overcrowding inside the exhibit hall.

Police were unable to immediately locate Mr. Nash, after roughly interrogating his girlfriend in the hallway. Unable to locate a key to his apartment, they quit knocking.

Still, Mr. Elder didn’t feel safe staying in his own hotel that night. He crashed with Star Lounge owner Mr. Ferri.

The next day, some big security guards appeared in the lobby and, days later, still haven’t stopped hounding Mr. Nash.

“I feel like I’ve been through a meat press,” the rebellious tenant said in his room after a particularly bruising encounter on Monday night.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been changed to reflect an error. The original item stated that Mr. Thomas was Mr. Elder’s father-in-law. In fact, he is his step-father. The author regrets the error. 

Elder Strikes Back at the Chelsea Hotel