As a punk rock, mohawk wearing adolescent I wondered what it would be like to OD at the famous Chelsea in New York. No joke! I wanted to be included in the same group as Sid Vicious‘s girlfriend Nancy Spungen. Who would be my Sid? It just came to my attention that I now must kill that dream. Chelsea Hotel is closing its doors.
Once a favourite haunt of artists and musicians, the notorious Chelsea in New York is closing its doors on a colourful and controversial past. Mark Rothko lived there. Sid Vicious killed his girlfriend Nancy Spungen there, Arthur C Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey there. Dylan Thomas drank himself to death there, and Leonard Cohen famously pleasured Janis Joplin there, giving rise to one of his most famous songs – and the most famous celebration in song of a hotel ever – “I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel, you were talking so brave and so sweet…”
For more than 70 years the Chelsea was the epicentre of louche, bohemian New York life. But no longer.
Earlier this month, New York’s most fabled hotel was taken over by a developer named Joseph Chetrit for a reported price of $85 million (£51 million), with a view to it being refurbished as a luxury hotel or as condominiums. It has closed its doors to new guests, and long-term residents are expecting notice to quit. The art works that decorated the lobby and corridors, many donated by artist residents over the years, or accepted in lieu of rent, have been stripped from the walls. The ghoulish papier mâché model of a woman on a swing hangs over an empty lobby. Doors have been bolted, and staff have been fired. All over New York, artists, writers, hedonists and ne’er-do-wells are in mourning.
When it was built in 1883, the Chelsea was New York’s tallest building, a 12-storey landmark so notable it gave the surrounding area its name. The Chelsea was originally conceived as the city’s first major co-operative apartment house, owned by a consortium of 10 wealthy families. After falling into bankruptcy in 1903, the building was converted into a mixed-use residence, which it has remained until the present day, with about 40 per cent of its 250 rooms reserved for hotel guests and the remainder occupied by long-stayers. Its geography was always odd, with accommodation ranging in size and quality from the palatial to the near-squalid – a hierarchy reflected in its clientele, which has traditionally ranged from wealthy bohemians and artists such as Larry Rivers and the composer Virgil Thompson, to impecunious punks and drug-dealers. MORE