Sunday, August 7, 2011

"Hotel Chelsea"

Sign on door of Hotel Chelsea, NYC, August 2011.
Word came at the beginning of August that the Hotel Chelsea, (Or Chelsea Hotel, or simply The Chelsea) would no longer be receiving guests. The doors to the infamous hotel had finally closed after well over 100 years of operation. Located at 222 West 23rd Street in the vibrant neighborhood of Chelsea, (just a block from my apartment!), the hotel had been a haven for artists, poets, musicians, writers and other creatives since the 1960's. Although most of the long-term residents are still inhabiting their homes, the closing finalizes the end of an arts-era in NYC.

Hotel Chelsea, NYC.
The 12-story building, with its wrought-iron balconies, and iconic neon sign, has long been a fixture in the neighborhood. The list of notables who have passed through its doors, and the history, artistic and otherwise, which has unfolded there, is a long and sordid tale. The facade framing the main entrance is littered with bronze plaques memorializing the boldface names, from Arthur C. Clarke (who reportedly wrote "A Space Odyssey" here) to Dylan Thomas. Other writers such as Allen Ginsberg, Virgil Thomas,  Charles Bukowski, Tennessee Williams, and Patti Smith, who's book "Just Kids" chronicles her time spent at the Chelsea with Robert Mapplethorpe,  all resided there at one point or another.

The lobby and the hallways are virtual galleries dedicated to the visual artists, whose numbers are too long to list,  who have stayed there, often bartering their work for rent with the long-term hotel manager Stanley Bard. Among others, Andy Warhol and his Superstars, frequented the hotel.

Alton DuLaney at Hotel Chelsea, NYC, 2011.
And while art filled the walls, music certainly filled the air from guests and residents such as Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Iggy Pop, the aforementioned Patti Smith, none other than Madonna, and of course, perhaps the most scandalous, Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen.
Hotel Chelsea, NYC, 2011.
The rowdy punk-rock couple of Sid and Nancy checked into room 100 in October 1978, and, well, Nancy never checked out. She was found stabbed to death on the hotel bathroom floor. But Nancy wasn't the only guest to end their story at the Chelsea, the fashion designer Charles James died there from pneumonia, and Dylan Thomas was rushed from his room, dying at a nearby hospital upon arrival. Additionally, more than one drug-addled or lovelorn soul is documented to have leaped from its gabbled roofs and ornate balconies, or overdosed behind the closed doors of its rooms. The halls seemed filled with the ghosts of these guests, and of the rich, sometime painful history that lived and died there.
Alton DuLaney, Chelsea Hotel, NYC, January 2011.
Luckily, I can say that I have experienced the Chelsea many times over the years. I have eaten at its authentic restaurant, El Quixote,  partied in its bar, and hung out in its rooms. I have had the opportunity to explore the building, marveling at the architecture, the art, and the pure eccentricity of the establishment.

The building, first opened in 1884 as one of the first residential co-ops in NYC, the tallest building in the city until 1899, and which transitioned into a hotel in 1905, was recently sold. Rumor is that it will re-opened after remodeling (and re-branding). Of course the locals are already bemoaning the loss of the cultural landmark, and decrying the end of an era. And of course this is the way that these things work. The zeitgeist happens and then moves on.

But the story of the Hotel Chelsea will not end here. It lives on in songs and poems and photographs and films and memories. It will always be a part of art and history, just like NYC itself.

Alton DuLaney, Hotel Chelsea, NYC, 2011.

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