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CHELSEA HOTEL

THE DEATH OF ROCK’S LAST REFUGE The Chelsea Hotel has just closed its doors after 127 years. ShortList’s Terri White visits a New York counterculture institution

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ew York ain’t what it used to be, I’m tellin’ you,” the barmaid sighs, leaning on the counter of the bar across the street from the Chelsea Hotel. Like music fans, art lovers and wide-eyed tourists before, we’d made the pilgrimage to the city’s 12-storey landmark. However, unlike every other day since it opened in 1884, there’s no option to walk through its infamous lobby or stay in a shabby room once home to a rock’n’roll legend. Now, in September 2011, when you walk up to 222 West 23rd Street, a dog-eared piece of A4 paper simply states: “The Chelsea Hotel is temporarily closed. We apologise for any inconvenience. Thank you.” A fiftysomething friendly-faced security guard sits quietly by the front door. As we attempt to cross the threshold and breathe in the history for ourselves he steps forward, shakes his head with a firm “no”, before apologising profusely. He explains

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but died of a heroin overdose four months later before he could stand trial.

AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE

But as much scandal as the Chelsea spawned, it was a huge source of BOHEMIAN BOLTHOLE inspiration. “There’s hardly When it was announced that, as of 1 August this year, been an artist who has the Chelsea Hotel would no longer accept new guests, lived in the Chelsea that people reacted with confusion and anger. Was it closing was not captured in some permanently? Being renovated into apartments? What way by its flair,” noted Patti Smith. Leonard Chelsea resident Dennis Hopper about the residents who lived there, some for decades? Cohen immortalised the hotel with Chelsea Hotel No 2, (left); Sid Vicious after being What about the history? in which he sang about his affair with Janis Joplin there, arrested in 1978 The reaction was understandable, because the and it was at the Chelsea that Arthur C Clarke wrote 2001: Chelsea Hotel was never a normal hotel. Originally an A Space Odyssey, Bob Dylan penned Blonde On Blonde, apartment building, it became a hotel in 1905, taking in and Jack Kerouac crafted On The Road. both guests and long-term residents. It quickly became It’s against the backdrop of this legacy that the new the place that musicians, writers and artists gravitated owner is being judged. Developer Joseph Chetrit paid a towards. Some stayed for days; some for years. Some reported $85m (£51m) for the Chelsea in May, immediately paid; others offered pieces of their art instead. being labelled ‘middle brow’. Critics were further inflamed Ed Hamilton, author of Legends Of The Chelsea Hotel, when he named the architect he’d hired: Gene Kaufman. tells ShortList of its cultural significance: “Without the The man most famous for designing Holiday Inns. ‘What the f*ck are you talking about? Don’t talk to me like Chelsea there would have been no Kaufman recently spoke out, telling The Wall that. Listen, this is what happens and if you don’t like it place for struggling artists and Street Journal that work done to the then just f*ck off!’ And then he just looked up and said, building would be “subtle” and “more other creative people to stay. It ‘Hey, guys, welcome to the Chelsea Hotel!’ You didn’t mind like a restoration”. It’s believed that the was the crash-pad for the Beats it being like that. You felt like you were in New York, you doors will re-open in a year. in the Fifties, the Warhol people in know? Like a real New Yorker…” Some have claimed it’s in dire need What many fear is that the Chelsea is the latest victim the Sixties and the punk rockers of of the widespread gentrification of New York that has in the Seventies.” o work, but while the Chelsea was never n the swankiest joint, that was part already claimed punk hotspots Mars Bar and CBGB. The roll call of those who of of the appeal. Rob Ro Doig, who in 1994 “The Chelsea was one of the last places where a struggling found refuge under its roof reads stayed there with his artist could get a cheap room without having to work like a who’s who of popular US Andy Warhol (above), band, Scottish indie 60 hours a week on Wall Street,” says Ed Hamilton. “You culture: Charles Bukowski, Dee Woody Allen (below) and s, outfit The Fuse, have to have a trust fund to live on the Lower East Side Dee Ramone, Johnny Thunders, Jimi Hendrix (right) at times remembers: “We were these days. If it continues this way, there won’t be any Jean-Paul Sartre, Robert called the Chelsea home staying in Arthur C room for creative people at all.” Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, Clarke’s C room. The Standing outside the once vibrant New York institution, Iggy Pop, William S décor was old, there it’s sad to see it so quiet. While guests are long gone, many Burroughs, Jimi Hendrix, Phil d were no mod cons, and residents have leave to stay — for now. “I think it’s a good Lynott, Frida Kahlo, Stanley w at bet that he [Chetrit] would like to get rid of the ones he has Kubrick, Andy Warhol, Mark a night you’d hear the radiators r banging all the and not admit any more,” fears Hamilton. “But the Chelsea Twain, Jim Morrison, Dennis way is the centre of the neighbourhood and we hope it will Hopper, Quentin Crisp… w through the hotel. But continue to be the Chelsea Hotel for many years to come.” The unique environment B it felt like an honour to stay there.” It’s a hope shared by many who pray that the Chelsea at the Chelsea provided Neither were the is allowed to retain its unique charm. As playwright and a sought-after sanctuary. As staff resident of six years Arthur Miller famously said: “There Leonard Cohen said: “I love st always amenable. “When “W we first stepped are no vacuum cleaners, no rules and no shame… It’s hotels to which, at 4am, you through the door,” the high spot of the surreal.” can bring along a midget, a bear ar th remembers Doig, ““the guy behind the and four ladies, drag them into r b D counter was saying to this woman, Chelseahotelblog.com your room and no one cares about it at all.” Perhaps inevitably, though, the Chelsea was home to some of the city’s biggest scandals. Room 205 was the scene of Dylan Thomas’s collapse in KNOCK, KNOCK… November 1953 after drinking 18 glasses of whisky — he died in hospital just days later — and author of The Lost The Chelsea rooms that hold the most history Weekend Charles R Jackson committed suicide in his room in 1968. ROOM 211 ROOM 882 ROOM 1008 ROOM 1017 However, no story made more headlines than the death of Sid Vicious’s girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, in room Bob Dylan’s s (r (right) right) Madonna us used s room Author Arthur C In 1969, Patti Smith s said 882 as th h 100. The two lived there at the height of their drug stay here was the Clarke penned the and photographer is setting for addiction, a union that ended in tragedy at around 11am to inspire his bulk of his 2001: A friend Robert Space Odyssey on 12 October 1978, when a bellboy found the 20-year-old name-change, ge e, the rat rather t Mapplethorpe lived e to t sugges s peroxide-blonde half-naked on the bathroom floor. She as a homage suggestive novel and its here at the top of mas s, picture e found had a 1in stab wound to her belly and was covered in Dylan Thomas, pictures film screenplay the hotel, paying blood. In the hallway, police found a distressed Vicious who died six x in herr 1992 simultaneously in just $55 a week for n. book k Sex. who reportedly said, “I killed her… I can’t live without her,” doors down. book, this room in 1964. the pleasure. and, “She must have fallen on the knife.” He was arrested

“AT 4AM, YOU CAN BRING BACK FOUR LADIES AND A BEAR, AND NO ONE CARES”

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P H OTO G R A P H S : TA K E N F RO M T H E H E A D P R E S S B O O K C H E LS E A H OT E L M A N H AT TA N BY J O E A M B RO S E ; WO R L D H E A D P R E S S .C O M , G ET T Y IMAGES, PA , RE X FEAT URES, @RITA BARROS ROB DOIG’S NEW BAND GLOVE ARE CURRENT LY WORKING ON THE IR F IRST STUDIO ALBUM

that he’s under “strict instructions” not to let anyone in. “Anyway,” he says, “there’s not much to see now.” Indeed, the lobby — once crammed with art, often hanging down to knock unsuspecting guests on the head — is now bare, with light fittings dangling from the wall. And so we head to the bar across the street, content for now to sit within its imposing shadow. The barmaid proclaims: “The problem is, the rich have taken over New York.”

Profile for Doigy

The Death Of Rock's Last Refuge - Shortlist Magazine Sept 2011  

Shortlist Magazine Sept 2011 - Article on the Chelsea Hotel in New York by Terri White

The Death Of Rock's Last Refuge - Shortlist Magazine Sept 2011  

Shortlist Magazine Sept 2011 - Article on the Chelsea Hotel in New York by Terri White

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