Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Chelsea Hotel

"The Corner" building on 24th and 6th.
The Chelsea Hotel on 23rd between 7th and 8th.
Another shot of the Chelsea Hotel.
Another shot of the Chelsea.
The historic Chelsea Hotel is up for sale again, and since the weather has been so fantastic lately, I decided to take a walk down there recently to take a look at it. In Chelsea you can find a number of great-looking old buildings from the late 19th century, many of which survived from when this area served as the most fashionable part of town. My mother has been reading a book about Robert Mapplethorpe's and Patty Smith's time spent there in the early '70s, when it was home to some of the most creative people staying in New York City.

The Chelsea Hotel was built on West 23rd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues in 1883 as the first co-op apartment building, and was the tallest building in New York City. It remained so for nearly twenty years until the Flatiron Building was completed as the tallest building in the world two-and-a-half blocks south in 1902. Once surrounded by Ladies' Mile and the theatre district, the co-op went bankrupt after only a few years when the city's theaters and shopping centers migrated uptown and the nation suffered a minor (comparatively speaking) recession. Abandoned for a few years, it reopened in 1905 as a hotel. It flourished for a few decades until being bankrupted again by the Great Depression, and in 1939 was purchased by Joseph Gross, David Bard, and Julius Krauss, who managed it as partners until the early '70s. With the passing of Gross and Krauss during this time, the management went to Bard's son, Stanley. In 2007, Stanley Bard was ousted by the board of directors and Dr. Marlene Krause, Julius Krause's daughter, and David Elder, grandson of Joseph Gross, replaced him with the management company BD Hotels, which has since been relinquished from ownership as well.

The hotel has been home to Mark Twain, O. Henry, William S. Burroughs, Leonard Cohen, Gore Vidal, Arthur Miller, Quentin Crisp, Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Brendan Behan, Thomas Wolfe, Stanley, Kubric, Ethan Hawke, Dennis Hopper, Uma Thurman, Michael Imperioli, Jane Fonda, The Grateful Dead, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Janis Joplin, Rufus Wainwright and countless others. Charles R. Jackson, author of The Lost Weekend, about an alcoholic who frequents P.J. Clarke's on 55th and 3rd, committed suicide in his room in 1968. Dylan Thomas collapsed in his room here after drinking too much at the Whitehorse Tavern on Hudson and West 11th Streets. Jack Kerouac wrote On The Road while staying here. Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious allegedly murdered girlfriend Nancy Spungen here in 1978, but many believe someone else killed her, such as one of the two drug dealers who visited their room that night.

Artists such as Julian Schnabel, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol lived here, and as I walked in the lobby I saw that it was adorned with some pretty crazy-looking art. I particularly remember the giant horse-head painting that was to my left. This hotel became a safe-haven for artist and the like who didn't seem to fit into the mainstream. Fans of the hotel have always praised it for it's inclusiveness, and some feel it is the last remnant of a once bohemian city. Many people who lived and hung out here long to keep its artistic tradition alive, and hopefully whoever buys the hotel next will respect this.

I walked around the neighborhood a little more on that Sunday evening, taking in what the neighborhood has become, and what it used to be that all these New York City bloggers wistfully reminisce about. "Billy's Topless" on 24th and 6th was shut down by Giullianni ten years ago this month, and has been a a cafe for a long time now. The "Limelight Disco" on 20th and 6th is now the "Limelight Marketplace" and just about a month ago has started selling Grimaldi's pizza. Of course not that these changes are all bad (anyone who longs for the old city has to admit that Billy's Topless and the Limelight weren't the most wholesome places in the world), but, as usual, it's all about making a buck, and the common New Yorker gets left behind. The Jefferson Market Library on 10th and 6th is locked up for some reason (hopefully not for good). I'm assuming it's just for renovations. The sign on the door directs people to go the the Muhlenberg branch near the Chelsea Hotel, named for William Augustus Muhlenberg, the first pastor of the Limelight when it opened up as the Church of the Holy Communion in 1846. When he donated his collection of books it became the core of that library. Anyway, my dogs were barking by the end of the night, so it was time to head on home until my next rambling.