New York's Chelsea Hotel Refuses to Die Quietly

As the legendary hotel closes to guests for the first time ever, mayhem reigns

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Regardless of your taste in music, movies, or literature, or your relationship with the neighborhood in southwest Manhattan, you probably know something about the Chelsea Hotel. The looming, 250-room behemoth at the west end of 23rd Street has hosted more famous creative types than most of us have heard of. It's where the Sex Pistols' Sid Vicious stayed with his girlfriend Nancy Spungen before she was found stabbed to death there in 1978. It's where Leonard Cohen's not-so-subtly described affair with Janis Joplin, a hotel resident, takes place in the song "Chelsea Hotel No. 2." Dylan Thomas drank himself to death there, and Bob Dylan lived there. Mark Twain called it home in 1898, as did Jack Kerouac when he wrote On the Road in 1951. More recently, the Libertines recorded there, and according to Wired, the Clintons named their daughter Chelsea after Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning," which is about the hotel. It is possible that no one building is drenched in as much creative history as the one at 222 W. 23rd St. Thousands of musicians, artists, writers, poets, and filmmakers have stayed there, along with thousands more guests who shared their spirit.

As you may expect from a landmark so inexorably tied with bohemians, punks, and the counter-culture, the Chelsea 's first-ever closing to guests on Monday has not been going smoothly. Since it became a hotel in 1905, the Chelsea has welcomed misfits with a few hundred dollars for a room. The hotel's future is unclear: a reported sale in the works to developer Joseph Chetrit is due to be finalized on Monday, but as The New York Times pointed out in its story today, there's a distinct possibility the hotel will not reopen unchanged. "The hotel's 100 permanent residents will be allowed to stay, but they have been told nothing beyond what the startled hotel workers learned late last week: that all reservations after Saturday were canceled." Today, on the first day of the hotel's closure for renovation, has seen a spike in a recent spate of the anarchic mischief one would expect from those who love the Chelsea.

  • blog about the hotel written by resident Ed Hamilton, who wrote the book Legends of the Chelsea Hotel noted that workers had been kept out today after somebody poured concrete down the sewage system "in an attempt at sabotage." That'll make things hard for the residents.
  • A post from earlier today has more: "One family called the cops because staff removed their bags while they were out," The Chelsea's blog reported earlier today. Also, "a vandal kicked out a window in the fire door on the first floor – probably Sid’s ghost, upset over recent developments." 
  • The Times report included this gem of a dust-up from the hotel's final weekend. "Shortly before dusk, police officers rushed in and up to the ninth floor. A guest had gotten into a fight with his girlfriend and called his mother to tell her he wanted to kill himself; his mother called the police, who in turn escorted the man to Bellevue Hospital’s psychiatric ward. 'Never a dull moment,' a front-desk clerk said."
  • According to The Real Deal, one actor who was staying at the hotel refused to go. "Officers were called again this morning when another hotel guest refused to leave: Scottish actor Jeffrey Stewart, best known for his longtime role as PC Reg Hollis in the British drama 'The Bill,' who was in town for a film festival. He had reservations until tomorrow, but he was awakened at 9 a.m. this morning by 'banging on the door' and someone telling him to get out. This afternoon he checked into the Chelsea Savoy Hotel down the block."
  • Announcement of the closure came as an art theft scandal broke at the hotel. Last week, Hamilton rounded up myriad reports of stolen, trashed, or taken-down artworks that once adorned the halls and lobby at the hotel. One even sold for $1.4 million at auction by Sotheby's. One of the stolen paintings, it turns out, was the work of Alpheous Philemon Cole, once the world's oldest man.
  • The Times reporter Cara Buckley did a good job summarizing the scene on the hotel's final Saturday night:

In the rooms above, people partied, prowled and slept. Hip-hop blared from Sid and Nancy’s old room. Hotel guests held earnest, drunken conversations from the balconies overlooking West 23rd Street. Ms. Ramona combed the halls with her camera. Tony Notarberardino, a photographer who has lived at the Chelsea for 17 years, hosted an “end of an era” party in an attempt to cheer everyone up. He scattered white rose petals near the entryway of his sixth-floor apartment, which is choked with chandeliers, beaded lamps, red walls and gilt-edged mirrors and feels like a speakeasy crossed with an opium den. “Let’s celebrate what we had,” he said, “and embrace change.”

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.