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Leonard Cohen, Joe Chetrit, and Hotel Chelsea

A song, a bard, a real estate mogul, and a famous property

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Yesterday, we noted that there was a new cover of Leonard Cohen’s classic song “Chelsea Hotel #2,” generating some buzz across the internets (listen below). But for all of pop culture’s fascination with Cohen, it’s surprising that this song–about Leonard Cohen and a famous person, performing an infamous act, in a famous location–is not the Cohen song of choice among the countless who, by overdoing the song “Hallelujah,” have turned it into a virtually unlistenable song. My colleague and true believer Liel Leibovitz chronicled the countless butcherings here.

But what of the hotel itself? Once held to mythology for housing Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Arthur Miller, Stanley Kubrick, R. Crumb, and an inestimable number of other well-known musicians, writers, artists, and poets (including Cohen himself) as well as a semi-famous murder, the life of the hotel has become a less whimsical point of fascination since it was purchased by mogul Joseph Chetrit in 2011 for $80 million.

Chetrit is one of those publicity-averse legends of real estate about whom little seems known…you know…other than the fact that he heads the group that owns the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears) in Chicago along with the famous Chelsea hotel. The Observer gave some contours of Chetrit’s biography:

…he was born in Morocco in the 1960s; he speaks four languages—Arabic, Hebrew, French and English; he is married to Nancy Chetrit, and they have four children; he practices Orthodox Judaism (his former rabbi described Mr. Chetrit as “an extremely generous and warm person”); and he recently moved from a mansion in Engelwood, N.J., to the city. But his life revolves primarily around the deals.

Ever since he took control of the property, there have no been no shortages of drama. The hotel ceased taking reservations as renovations began. (Renovation that long-time renters vocally and frequently critique.) Naturally, Chetrit has become the target of some ire. Earlier this week, after mayoral frontrunner Christine Quinn accused Chetrit of tenant harassment, the New York Department of Buildings ordered that the work on the building stop after the gas and heat were disabled. A lawyer for the tenants is threatening to sue. But this hardly the end of the beginning of the trouble:

Mr. Chetrit filed his own $4.15 million lawsuit earlier this month in the State Supreme Court against the property’s former ownership group, alleging that the group “deliberately lied” about the status of tenants and deceived him into believing that valuable artwork – and a “closet” – on the premises was included as part of his purchase of the property in 2011, Curbed reported.

“Had plaintiff known of defendants’ fraud regarding the artwork and apartment units, plaintiff never would have paid $78.5 million for the purchase of the Chelsea Hotel,” the lawsuit states, calling the actions “outrageous, fraudulent, shocking.”

After ownership changed hands, artists and their beneficiaries – including the widow of Arthur Alan Weinstein, the Larry Rivers Foundation and artist Philip Taaffe himself – knocked on Mr. Chetrit’s door asking for the artwork back, with Mr. Weinstein’s widow alone claiming 22 pieces worth up to $500,000, the lawsuit alleges.

Maybe this is why covers of “Chelsea Hotel #2″ haven’t found their place in the mainstream. For a song that starts “I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel,” the nostalgia may be too distant to capably summon. Even modern songs about the Chelsea Hotel (like the good and shimmery, Prince-like “Hotel Chelsea Nights” by former tenant Ryan Adams) sound like covers of something else.

Earlier: In Defense of Sandler’s Hallelujah
Hotel Chelsea’s New Proprietor [WSJ]
Another Setback for Joe Chetrit at Chelsea Hotel: Speaker Quinn Alleges Tenant Harassment [Commercial Observer]
Joseph Chetrit, the Most Mysterious Big Shot in New York Real Estate [Observer]
Joseph Chetrit Sues Hotel Chelsea’s Former Owners for $4.15M [Curbed]

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As a life-long Cohen fan, I find this Lana DelRey cover quite respectful and touching. Not s good as Lenny, but by no means bad.

There is no such thing as overdoing LC. Geeze.


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Leonard Cohen, Joe Chetrit, and Hotel Chelsea

A song, a bard, a real estate mogul, and a famous property

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