Located in the Chelsea neighbourhood of southern Manhattan, The Hotel Chelsea is one of New York's most famous hotels. Not opulent like the Plaza or highbrow like the Algonquin, the hotel has earned a reputation as a refuge for Bohemians and artists. The Hotel Chelsea accommodates both short-term and long-term stays. Indeed, some 300 of the 400 units in the hotel are occupied by permanent residents, some of whom have modified their rooms extensively. The hotel also hosts the Selena bar in the basement.
The Hotel Chelsea opened in 1884 as New York's first co-operative apartment complex. At the time, Chelsea was New York's posh theatre district, and the building featured such amenities as wrought iron balconies, thick soundproof walls, fireplaces, high ceilings, and large apartments. In addition, it was the tallest building in New York until 1902.
Sadly, the good times were not to last. As it had done before, the theatre district moved uptown to the now familiar location around Times Square. Rich families also moved further uptown, welcoming the chance to build larger mansions and find bigger apartments in the Upper East Side. The Chelsea building fell on hard times and the co-operative declared bankruptcy in 1903. In 1905, the building was sold, restructured and opened as a hotel. The hotel was sold again in 1940, but has remained in the same management (now in its third generation) since then. Funnily enough, the Chelsea neighbourhood has also gone through a resurgence in popularity since then, becoming one of the new hot spots of Manhattan. Many art galleries have recently relocated to Chelsea to escape the astronomical prices of SoHo. Also, it is the home of a large gay community, which moved away from the higher rents of the West Village. Finally, it has become a fashion and design zone as a result of its proximity to the garment district and the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Bohemian Stomping Ground
It's not entirely clear how the hotel's reputation as a Bohemian stomping ground began, but many creative people have stayed at the hotel over the years. Some of these residents became rather famous, further cementing the hotel's reputation as a beacon for artists. This section documents some of the notable guests at the Chelsea in the past as well as the artistic movements they helped drive.
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) was one of the first notable visitors to the hotel in its early days. During the 1920s, O Henry (William Sidney Porter) wrote several stories there. However, most of the literary activity of the time was happening elsewhere, especially at the famed Algonquin Round Table1. In the 1950s and '60s, the hotel was home to some new movements. In 1952, the poet Dylan Thomas moved into the hotel before drinking himself to death a year later. Brendan Behan followed a similar course in the 1960s. William Burroughs was living at the Chelsea when he wrote Naked Lunch, and the other beat authors would crash there as well. Since then, the hotel has become less of a literary hot spot, but it has hosted some other notable authors. Sir Arthur C Clarke stayed at the hotel while working on 2001: A Space Odyssey with Stanley Kubrick and has been a frequent guest ever since. Quentin Crisp also resided in the Chelsea for some 35 years after leaving England.
The lobby of the Chelsea is cluttered with pieces of art on practically every available surface. It is a testament to the numerous artists who have lived in the Chelsea over the years... and who paid their rent in art when they couldn't make ends meet. The Ashcan School of painters in the 1920s was one of the first artistic groups to thrive in the hotel. In the 1950s and '60s, the Abstract Expressionists and Pop Artists moved in: Claes Oldenburg, Yves Klein, Christo, Jim Dine, Jasper Johns, and Jean Tinguely all lived at the Chelsea at some point in that period. In the 1970s, Andy Warhol's circle migrated between the Chelsea and Warhol's studio, the Factory. Andy filmed his Chelsea Girls in one of the hotel's rooms. In the 1970s, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe shared a room with rocker Patti Smith.
When Leonard Cohen wrote his song, 'Chelsea Hotel', the hotel was a hotbed - ... an unmade bed - for musicians in the 1960s. Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin all lived there for some time. In fact, Janis Joplin is said to be the subject of the song. In the 1970s and '80s, punk musicians moved in and inherited the legacy of debauchery and self-destruction. In the Hotel's darkest incident, ex-Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious allegedly stabbed Nancy Spungeon to death in his room's bathroom, before killing himself a few days later. The thick walls of the building are believed to have prevented any of the neighbours from hearing her cries for help.