The Truth about Hotel Chelsea
Why just visit a New York City landmark when you can stay in one? Some of the most creative minds and artists throughout time have stayed inside the Hotel Chelsea while pursuing their iconic art. Mark Twain, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Arthur Miller, Uma Thurman, Jimi Hendrix, Jane Fonda, The Grateful Dead, were just a few of the famous people who called this West 23rd bohemian beacon home. But the Hotel Chelsea was more than just a place to stay, it was their muse.
During his time at the hotel, Arthur C. Clarke penned the famous, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Andy Warhol directed the film Chelsea Girls about the lives of his friends staying at the hotel. Leonard Cohen wrote the well-known song, “Chelsea Hotel #2,” about his brief relationship with Janis Joplin. Arthur Miller, the playwright behind “Death of a Salesman” and “The Crucible,” wrote a short memoir entitled “The Chelsea Affect,” about his time there. The director of the hotel has admitted to keeping a collection of books written at his hotel, one that includes Jack Kerouac’s acclaimed On the Road.
The Hotel Chelsea is an artists’ museum, so why is there chatter of overhauling it?
Nasty rumors are circling that the new owners of the Hotel Chelsea want to gut it. Although it is true that it has been closed and undergoing reparations for more than a year, I highly doubt the Chelsea’s unique charm and history is going anywhere. For starters, it has been listed as a New York City landmark since 1966. Thanks to programs like the NYC Landmarks Preservation Committee, there is a large committee that must legally oversee any changes to the building. Furthermore the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, making it a federally monitored site. Essentially, any change must be approved by a number of people whose job it is to maintain the historical integrity of the interior and exterior of the building.
Despite a New York Times post entitled, “First, No More Guests; Now, Chelsea Hotel Says No More Art,” trying to persuade readers that the Chelsea is being threatened, it is actually in no one’s interest to radically change the hotel.
One of Hotel Chelsea’s most well known idiosyncrasies is the abundance of interesting and eccentric artwork adorning the walls, practically making it a museum on its own. The Times article put forth the fact that the owner’s asked the residents to remove their art from the walls as proof that the Chelsea and it’s tenants are now victims of corporate greed. According to the owners, they were only harmlessly asking the tenants to remove their art in order to ensure its safety and preserve it during the renovation process.
The Times article also bemoaned the increase in rent prices as a red flag about the intentions of the new owners. Perhaps the author has overlooked the general increase in all rent prices across the city as the market has tightened up in the past year. The current tenants are still benefitting from state-sponsored rent control.
So artists everywhere can let out a sigh of relief. The Chelsea and all of its wonderful quirks will be open next year. Those who clamor for action in preventing renovations are overreacting. Renovations are a necessary part of keeping the building intact.
I would highly recommend giving the Chelsea a call next year when it’s doors reopen. The atmosphere of the hotel created by the accents on art and the historic feeling generated by the years of brilliant minds walking those same hallways is an experience as unique as the hotel itself. The bohemian vibe does not just stop at the door of the Chelsea—the neighborhood and namesake of the hotel is packed full of great attractions including countless galleries, a few theaters, and restaurants lining every block.
So be sure to make a reservation when Hotel Chelsea is back up and running—you never know who you might encounter there.