In 2019 cultural relic the Chelsea Hotel will be opening its doors as a newly refurbished boutique hotel under the new ownership of BD Hotels which bought the Chelsea in 2016. Here’s a look at some of the hotels legacy and it’s next chapter.
The Chelsea Hotel has gone through a juggle of bidders and owners since 2007 and has been undergoing refurbishment for over a decade. While the Chelsea stopped taking short term visitors in 2011, 51 long term tenants still live there today in rent stabilized apartments. The Chelsea’s development has been no easy feet with growing tensions between the new management’s plans for a new model of the hotel and the tenants desires to preserve the hotel’s cultural history.
The Chelsea Hotel has been a progressive and cultural landmark for over a hundred years. Built in 1884, it started as one of New York’s first co-operative apartment buildings which housed people of different backgrounds fitted with communal dining areas and art spaces. The Chelsea re-opened as a hotel in 1905 but in 1939 the hotel went bankrupt and was sold to Joseph Gross, Julius Krauss, and David Bard. David Bard’s son Stanly Bard began working there in 1947 and became the hotel manager when his father passed in 1964.
Bard was the reigning force that pushed the Hotel to be a haven and safe space for creatives, musicians, artists, and thinkers. Bard was an eccentric and was loved by the tenants of the hotel, he encouraged the artists who lived there and made sure rents were reasonable for his tenants. Bard was always lenient with rent and would often take art work in exchange for board, which led to the hotel lobby and hallways becoming filled with a large collection of paintings, photographs and sculptures from past patrons. The Chelsea became a thriving artistic community that echoed the shifting ideals of the sixties.
In the late fifties the Chelsea became the home to many of the Beat Generation’s literary forefathers like William Burroughs who wrote much of Naked Lunch during his stay, Allen Ginsberg who penned some of his poetry, and Jack Kerouac who worked on one of the most important books of the generation ‘On The Road’. The famous poet Dylan Thomas lived and famously died there in 1953 from alcohol poisoning and complications from pneumonia. Other notable mentions include Arthur C. Clarke wrote the screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey and Arthur Miller lived there for six years after divorcing Marilyn Monroe.
The most notable appearances in pulp culture by the Chelsea would be in Leonard Cohen’s songs “Chelsea Hotel” and “Chelsea Hotel #2”, written about his life and affair with Janis Joplin when they lived in the Chelsea in sixties. During this period the list of musicians, artists and people at the forefront of the hippie movement is really astounding. Bob Dylan, who interestingly took the last name Dylan after Dylan Thomas stayed at the Chelsea and wrote his album ‘Blonde On Blonde’. Some of other musical icons include Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Iggy Pop, and Patti Smith who moved their with photographer and friend Robert Mapplethorpe when they were starting out as detailed in her book ‘Just Kids’.
A number of artists can be linked to the hotel like Andy Warhol who worked on the film ‘Chelsea Girls’ with his Factory muses who lived there, including Edie Sedgwick who notoriously burnt down her room by falling asleep with candles burning. Other artists include Robert Crumb, Christo Claude, and Alphaeus Philemon Cole who lived there to the impressive age of 112.
In the 70’s the Chelsea rose again to notoriety with its links to the death of Nancy Spungen and her boyfriend Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. In 1978 at the end of their unstable relationship, Spungen was found murdered in one of the hotel rooms with a knife belonging to Vicious. Vicious was charged with murder but died of a heroin overdose before the trial.
In the nineties the Hotel attracted a new age of tenants including Uma Thurman, Ethan Hawke, and Mitch Hedberg. Madonna who lived in the hotel in 80’s returned to shoot photographs for her book ‘Sex’ in 1992. The hotel would also attract tourists who would stay or do a tour around the building learning about the artworks, history and probably some of the infamous ghost stories. Sadly in 2007 due to complications with the shareholders of the hotel, Stanley Bard was replaced by other management, and the building was sold a number of times before being bought by BD Hotels.
At the time of the first change of ownership in 2007 there were around 100 long term tenants, this number has dropped to 51 who are in rent stabilised apartments. Since 2007 the rents were increased, and intense renovating began which included a lot of the rooms being completed gutted. This heavy duty construction made living conditions incredibly difficult for those who stayed, and many had to seek temporary residence elsewhere. Tension between the tenants trying to keep the Chelsea’s identity intact and the developers ideas for the hotel’s modifications have been rife. The art from the hotel has been removed and a lot of the original fixtures have been changed. A legal battle to preserve Dylan Thomas’s room was granted which was one of a few victories for the tenants.
Another victory being by Jim Georgiou a tenant of the Chelsea Hotel who became homeless in 2007. However Georgiou always kept close to the Chelsea and in 2012, Georgiou noticed the doors from the hotel rooms were being thrown into the dumpsters by the construction workers during the renovations. Georgiou knowing their historical significance, salvaged as many as he could and out of 200 he was able to salvage 52, and kept them safe for five years in a friend’s storage unit. Georgiou contacted the auctioneer company Guernsey’s who held an auction in April of this year where Bob Dylan’s apartment door was sold for $100,000, Jimi Hendrix’s for $13,000 and Leonard Cohen’s went for $85,000. Although still homeless at the time Georgiou donated half of his earnings to the charity City Harvest, a charity that works with getting meals to homeless people.
BD Hotels have stated that they aim to work with the remaining tenants to create positive living conditions and to preserve what is left of the historical markings of the hotel, which hopefully comes into fruition. No matter the outcome after the ups and downs of it’s renovation, and while it is definitely a long end of an era for the hotel, one can hope that some of the hotels history and charm can be somewhat restored, and for the old walls of the Chelsea to get a new chapter again soon.