Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Chelsea Hotel

The Chelsea Hotel is infamous in the world of music and creative arts . Its fame and notoriety includes :

Owing to its long list of famous guests and residents, the hotel has an ornate history, both as a birth place of creative modern art and punctuated by tragedy catching the public eye. Sir Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey while staying at the Chelsea, and poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso chose it as a place for philosophical and intellectual exchange. It is also known as the place where the writer Dylan Thomas had died of alcohol poisoning on November 4, 1953, and where Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols may have stabbed his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, to death on October 12, 1978.

During its lifetime Hotel Chelsea has provided a home to many great writers and thinkers including Mark Twain, O. Henry, Herbert Huncke, Dylan Thomas, Arthur C. Clarke, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Leonard Cohen, Arthur Miller, Quentin Crisp, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Robert Hunter, Jack Gantos, Brendan Behan, Simone de Beauvoir, Robert Oppenheimer, Jean-Paul Sartre, Bill Landis, Michelle Clifford, Thomas Wolfe, Matthew Richardson, Raymond Foye, and René Ricard. Charles R. Jackson, author of The Lost Weekend, committed suicide in his room at the Chelsea on September 21, 1968.

The hotel has been a home to actors and film directors such as Stanley Kubrick, Shirley Clarke, Mitch Hedberg, Miloš Forman, Lillie Langtry, Ethan Hawke, Dennis Hopper, Uma Thurman, Jane Fonda and Gaby Hoffmann.

Much of Hotel Chelsea's history has been colored by the musicians who have resided there. Some of the most prominent names include Patti Smith, Virgil Thomson, Dee Dee Ramone of The Ramones, Henri Chopin, John Cale, Édith Piaf, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Sid Vicious, Richard Hell, Ryan Adams, Jobriath, Rufus Wainwright, Leonard Cohen and Anthony Kiedis.

The hotel has featured and collected the work of the many visual artists who have passed through. Larry Rivers, Brett Whiteley, Christo, Arman, Richard Bernstein, Ralph Gibson, Robert Mapplethorpe, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Robert Crumb, Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg, Vali Myers, Donald Baechler and Henri Cartier-Bresson have all spent time at Hotel Chelsea.

Its been the subject of many songs , such as Chelsea Girls by Nico and Chelsea Hotel #2" by Leonard Cohen .

Today it is still a haven for creative types and run by the same family since 1946 :

It is unique in a town peppered with corporate hostelries and overrun in recent years with so-called boutique hotels that offer increasingly tiresome elements of over-design - all the way down the de rigueur buttoned black suits of the cat-walk bellboys - in exchange for exorbitant rates and rooms barely big enough to swing a Blackberry. The Chelsea is an outback of bohemia, a treasured throwback to times when personality came before profit.

The special atmosphere of the place is mostly about the artistic community it has fostered through many decades. Most of its long-term residents, who occupy about 60 per cent of the rooms, are in the creative world.

If the Chelsea Hotel has survived less as a place to sleep and more as a cultural institution, the credit goes to the Bard family, which has been known to let struggling artists fall behind on their rent rather than throw them out, or take pieces of artwork in lieu for cash payments.

This seems all set to change , a boardroom coup has brought in a team of city hotel developers :

The new team knows it has a potential media backlash on its hands as enemies of the Chelsea's artistic legacy, and has already hired the PR firm Rubenstein Communications, famous for spinning tinsel from any kind of turd, to defend them. But ambushed by a reporter, they make the first stab at reassurance. They will not turn out those residents already in rooms, they insist. And they will renovate slowly while respecting the hotel's soul. It will always be the Chelsea; it will just function better.

The concerns are it will end up just like any one of the luxury or boutique hotels in New York .Or perhaps just as bad, some sort of theme hotel, trading off its reputation but with all the rough edges and eccentricity knocked off. Sanitised and cleaned up, a sort of Hard Rock Hotel .

One resident at the Chelsea Hotel commented on the team's makeover of the Chateau Marmont in LA, another hotel with a past:

But Back in his room, Scott Griffin can not hide his doubts. He has stayed in the Chateau Marmont before and after the takeover by Balazs. "I know what the difference is," he says. "It has become much more expensive. Really, it's no different nowadays from staying at the Four Seasons or any other luxury hotel. Which is perfectly fine, of course, but it's more of a straight hotel, much more generic."

So not that hopeful really.

I always wanted to stay there, and did once pop my head in and had a look at its tiny lobby and amazing staircase. Looks like I left it to late.

Pic, two former residents, Sid and Nancy.