Thursday, November 5, 2015

Goodbye Hotel Chelsea!

It's no secret the Hotel Chelsea in New York, built in 1883, is under renovation and being turned into a boutique hotel for the rich.

For decades this iconic hotel on West 23rd in Manhattan was home to struggling artists, writers, poets, musicians and other wayward souls seeking refuge within its welcoming doors.

Among the notable writers and poets, Mark Twain, O'Henry, Dylan Thomas, Tennessee Williams, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Boroughs sought shelter or camaraderie within these hallowed walls, taking their meals in the inexpensive El Quijote bar and restaurant on the lobby floor.

Singers from Edith Piaf and Bob Dylan to Pink Floyd and Leonard Cohen frequented the Chelsea. Poet/singer Patti Smith and her photographer boyfriend Robert Mapplethorpe were long-term residents, and Janis Joplin would rent a cheap room there during her New York concerts. Not to mention Andy Warhol's bizarre and wonderful crowd were regular visitors.

All of these people in their various ways were in the forefront of social revolution - most notably beginning with the Beat Generation in the 1950s, throughout the turbulent and revolutionary 1960s, and the total madness of the 1970s and 80s. The Hotel Chelsea, on the National Register of Historic Places since 1977, was a crossroads and mingling place for all of them, and all of us benefit from the extraordinary social changes they set in motion.

But now this island of refuge and inspiration to artists for decades is being renovated - turned into a chic hotel for rich people to come and go as they please.

My question is, don't the rich have enough in this world already? Why do they need the Chelsea for God's sake? The very idea of watching them sashay in and out in their haute couture seems antithetic to the hotel's very history and purpose.

I feel a personal loss in this as well. Some years back I and some buddies rented an apartment on West 22nd, directly behind the Chelsea. When there was nothing else to do at night we'd wander over to the hotel, have a few drinks or dinner in the El Quijote, and observe first hand the amazing characters that still called this place home.

As lamentable as all this might be, life changes and I understand that. Perhaps it's time to graciously let go of the Chelsea - as if we had a choice. The extraordinary efforts and struggles of its residents have come to fruition in so many, many ways over the decades. And the forces of social justice and equal rights set in motion there have become mainstream thinking, right up to present-day.

I just hope rich people checking in at the front desk can somehow appreciate and revere the hard work accomplished within its walls. After all, it was in the vanguard of creating this amazing new world of liberation and freedom in which we all live and thrive - and has allowed them to accumulate their fortunes.

Thanks for stopping by tonight,


  1. I ran across this post when searching for information about the Chelsea's renovation on google. I loved that hotel in my youth and stayed there several times back during the days when Nancy Spungen died there. I just wanted to say your article is very touching and brings back many memories. As you say, it's a loss to many of us but it will survive in our memories and in the history of the era. Thank you for writing about this.
    Leanne McDade

    1. I appreciate this kind note Leanne. If it's any consolation, you might already know that Patti Smith's book Just Kids is being turned into a mini-series on Showtime. I'm sure the Chelsea will take center stage - and reinforce our fond memories. All the best,