Painting the Town Pink: A Composition for The Chelsea Hotel

Painting the Town Pink: A Composition for The Legendary Chelsea Hotel

The Chelsea Hotel: Starry, Starry Nights

The Chelsea Hotel on West 23d Street in Manhattan is an elegantly shabby Victorian-Gothic hotel, which is registered as a national historic landmark. Long a mecca for bohemian artists and eccentrics, one resident once fondly described the hotel’s surreal atmosphere as ”a cross between the Plaza and the Port Authority Bus Terminal.” The Chelsea has a long history of serving as a sanctuary for the the avant-garde.

Through the years, those who lived at the Chelsea have included Jack Kerouac, Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Tennessee Williams, Edith Piaf, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Leonard Cohen, Willem de Kooning, Jane Fonda, Janis Joplin, Milos Forman, Jimi Hendrix, Dennis Hopper, Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith, Vladimir Nabokov and Wes Klein. Dylan Thomas drank 18 straight whiskies there, his last. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey while living there.

After Andy Warhol’s film, Chelsea Girls, was released upon the world, the hotel’s reputation became the stuff of urban mythology, attracting artists from all over the world. Edie Sedgewick, Andy Warhol’s patroness and advisor, the Factory artists and other pop art figures were all there. Bob Dylan produced a record and a son there. Sid Vicious stabbed his girlfriend in Room 100.

Rufus Wainwright: Chelsea Hotel No. 2

The video above is selected from I’m Your Man, the critically acclaimed 2005 documentary celebrating the poetry, music and life of Leonard Cohen. This particular clip presents Rufus Wainwright performing Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel No. 2.

I Remember You Well in the Chelsea Hotel

According to recent, widespread New York City and national media coverage, it has recently become relatively clear that the Chelsea Hotel may well have finally met its day of reckoning. The legendary Chelsea has witnessed all kinds of insufferable incidents over the course of its long and quirky history, but never an administrative coup. As described in my posting two days ago, the hotel’s managing partner, Stanley Bard, has been pushed out by its board of directors. Bard’s part in transforming the Chelsea Hotel’s name into an urban myth is hard to overstate. He has ruled with a powerful. albeit eccentric influence over over the spirit and exuberance of the lodgers inhabiting the grand old brick heap since back when Leonard Cohen amorously cuddled there with Janis Joplin.

Adding further to the uncertainty about the hotel’s future is the fact that its ownership structure is somewhat clandestine. It was originally split by three families, but Bard’s family is the only one that had continued with day-to-day, direct management; the other two families are represented by a board. Now, at that board’s bidding an outside management company, led by two upscale New York City hoteliers, will take over Stanley’s day-to-day duties. These events have aroused the hotel residents’ fears, as well as a sense of alarm within the wider urban art community, that the hotel is headed either toward imminent condo conversion or transformation into a posh boutique hotel serving the hot, extremely profitable Manhattan hospitality market.

The Village Voice has provided this recent account of the events taking place at the Chelsea:

“It hasn’t taken long for the new management of the Hotel Chelsea to lay down the law with the landmark’s longtime residents. Days after ousting the hotel’s longtime manager, part-owner and lifeblood, Stanley Bard, the new guard sent a short letter to long-term residents this week asking them to make sure they’ve paid all “outstanding balances.”

It’s the first time in 50 years that the hotel has sent such a note. Many residents see it as the precursor toward demolishing the novel payment system Bard instituted to nurture both artists and the hotel’s bohemian environment before the Chelsea is converted into a pricey boutique hotel or condos.

For many residents, it’s not merely about the destruction of yet another unique cultural institution as the rising tide of real estate prices homogenizes New York. It’s a question of survival…

Completed in 1885, the 12-story Queen Anne-style building has been a temporary home to luminaries in all fields of artistic endeavor. It’s famous because Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen wrote songs there, Arthur Miller worked on “A View from the Bridge” there, and Dylan Thomas got wasted there. It’s infamous because Sid Vicious fatally stabbed Nancy Spungen there.

The new management, BD Hotels, which operates the Maritime Hotel among many other luxury properties, said in a press release that it seeks to burnish and build upon the hotels artistic history. Longtime residents who occupy about 60 percent of the hotel’s 250 rooms see that so-called burnishing as a pretense for tossing them out.

The residents’ worst fears seemed to be confirmed today by a Page Six item, which reported that renowned hotelier Andre Balazs — the man responsible for the renovations at the Chateau Marmont, the famed Sunset Strip hotel where John Belushi shot his last speedball — will have a role in the renovations and new management of the Chelsea.”

GAG: Guerillas Against Greed

Chelsea Hotel residents have been organizing a nationwide grassroots protest opposing the recent developments at the hotel, specifically aimed at the new management team that’s been put into place. They’ve asked people who endorse or champion respect for the unique creative dynamic that the Chelsea represents to reach out and support them. It’s a dynamic that has fostered visionary imagination to the extent that nearly everyone who’s anyone in the New York art, music and writing scene has lived there at one time or another. Further, for years the commitment to inspired artistic work has been accompanied by attempts to keep rents manageable for the creative people living there, most of whom have little money, unlike the stars who have achieved prominence and moved on. But all of them are just as important in maintaining the famous Chelsea spirit.

So in the Chelsea Hotel’s blog, the residents are urging allies of the arts to join them in opposing the new corporate management team. What exactly can people do to become involved? Protest coordinators are proposing, “A large number of varied and diverse guerilla activities may – while perhaps not forcing their ouster – at least drive them out of their bloomin’ minds...respond with our creativity – after all, that’s what we’re known for around here. Here are a few suggestions – some of them sent in by readers – to start us all thinking in the right direction. Let’s make them wish their greedy hides had never been born:

No matter where you live, fly a banner from your balcony or window. In addition to the postcards being sent, buy flowers – they’re not expensive at the Korean grocers and you can sometimes get three small bouquets out of one big cheap one — and stick them in the railings outside the hotel, in the stairwell balustrade, wherever. Deliver them to the desk! Attach a big cheery card addressed to [the new management personnel] with the message of your choice.

Whatever protest is done, a banner, a postcards, a bouquet of flowers with a get well card, it should be photographed/videotaped, and posted online. Maybe your friends all tap-dance? Have them meet in the Hotel Chelsea lobby, and then tap-dance out of there. Have a spontaneous art party in the lobby, and if any from the new order complain just explain that you’re waiting for a friend. If they kick you out, make sure it’s on video. Then post the videos on YouTube and Vimeo (with a link here). Photos can be posted on Google Picasa or in the Hotel Chelsea Flickr group

Celebrities: when in New York, stop by to give David Elder a piece of your mind. Don’t forget to bring a film crew.”

If interested, readers can follow daily developments at the Chelsea here: Living with Legends.

Slide Show: The Legendary Chelsea Hotel

(Please Click Image to View the Slide Show)

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4 Responses to “Painting the Town Pink: A Composition for The Chelsea Hotel”

  1. svh Says:

    Thank you for your tribute to the Chelsea Hotel.

  2. AHCB Says:

    Very nice.

  3. ST Says:

    It’s good to know that there are people willing to try to prevent the loss of this great artists’ residence.

  4. brightfeather Says:

    You never cease to amaze and amuse me with your beautifully illustrated well researched and well written blog posts. Your support for the artists and the Chelsea has brought this situation to my attention and for that I thank you. I stand with all those who understand the value of historicity and community.


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