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Utopia, Branded: Hotel Chelsea Becomes a Chain

by Jillian Steinhauer on May 28, 2014

The Hotel Chelsea (photo by George Rypysc III, via Flickr)

The Hotel Chelsea (photo by George Rypysc III, via Flickr)

You might say it was bound to happen. And perhaps it was. But now it has happened: the legendary Hotel Chelsea has become a brand. Capitalism spares none.

Currently under renovation, the Chelsea is owned by developer Ed Scheetz, whose other hotel properties are the Martha Washington Hotel on 29th Street, McCarren Hotel & Pool in Williamsburg (formerly King & Grove), a hotel project on Lafayette Street, and Ruschmeyer’s in Montauk, NY. Scheetz is rebranding all of those under the aegis Chelsea Hotels, which, despite switching the order of the original name, will attempt to be true to its spirit. Speaking to the New York Observer, Scheetz identified that as “creativity and shared experiences … The Hotel Chelsea was effectively set up as a utopian community and it catered to the creative class, but it welcomed all people to come and experience it. We want to create a place where everyone is welcome.” (Everyone who pays, presumably.)

To that, Scheetz added: “The Chelsea has this rich tradition that we’re building on—that’s a unique asset that’s very hard to come by—and making it into a modern environment with great food, a modern restauranteur, a great bar.”

This is the system at its finest, folks: take something scrappy and unique (an “asset”), spruce it up (“modern”), and replicate it for profit. Rinse, repeat. It’s the “individuality branding” paradox! The About page for Chelsea Hotels promises everything one could ever want from a 21st-century company:

We believe the best hotels are places where guests feel free to be themselves and do their own thing.  As such, we are creating environments that are conducive to individuality, authenticity, creativity, and community.  Chelsea Hotels stands for superb quality, individualized service, world-renowned restaurants, legendary design, historical relevance, and state of the art business and meeting facilities.

Chainification also represents a kind of logical Warholian endpoint for Chelsea. A way of life is sublimated to an easily reproducible aesthetic, which is then turned into a brand. The divorcing of the environment from the people who actually made it that way. (Sound familiar?)

Still, to his credit, Scheetz is nothing if not sensible when it comes to the renovation of the original Hotel Chelsea. As he told the Observer, “It never probably will be like what it once was, but it can be true to life spirit and still have air conditioning and plumbing that works.”

h/t Adweek

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