Topsy Turvy in New York: The Chelsea Hotel Changes Hands (Video)

Chelsea Hotel New York

The legendary Chelsea Hotel in New York City has changed hands.


Stanley Bard, proprietor of this hive of artists and eccentrics sold it in 2011. A developer proceeded to remodel, removing the art from the walls, raising the ire of residents, some 100 of them who can’t be evicted.  It just sold again to a luxury hotel developer. Some of the tenants remain, but the place will never be the same as when I revived the good old days with Stanley in 2001.


I like to park myself in hotel lobbies and spy. Sometimes make up stories and plots involving the people passing by. I settle down into the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel in New York City to check my e-mail. Here the passing reality sometimes has a hint of unreality.

I am staying there on an assignment to photograph a team of young female video gamers called “The Girls of Destruction,” posing them in the halls and fire escapes of this legendary commune wher


e at least half of the 20th century’s most famous authors and artists have lived, died, stayed or got stoned in.

I Google with delight at the passing parade of dogs and eccentrics, the painter who has stationed himself in the lobby to capture the disorder. The cries of “Hey Stanley!”
Stanley Bard, whose family has run the Chelsea since 1938, is busy on the phone (Stanley is always busy on the phone). “Stanley, the ceiling is falling in my room.” “Stanley, I can’t take it, there’s mildew on the walls, I want to leave!” In fact, the first room my wife and I were assigned could be described as being more Crackhaus than Bauhaus. When I complained and asked to leave, Stanley showed us another room, a lovely remodeled suite. But $650 bucks a night? Naw. Our original room was $250, Then he showed us the Jackson Pollock room: clean, spacious and decorated as if the artist who once lived there awakened some sleepless night and splotched the walls himself. Taking a chance on what our mental state might be after living for four days inside of Jackson Pollock head, we made a deal, threw open the windows to let some air in and headed off to breakfast. When we got back, the room was covered with a fine layer of powder from workers sandblasting the building next door sucked through the windows and the air conditioner. “Hey Stanley!”

Staying here a few days, you get to know who the lifers are: a publisher up to his nose in books and manuscripts, a friendly aging sculptress who walks the halls, a Sandra Bernhardt lookalike who cracks one-liners on the elevator, a prim interior designer, the lady with the two dachshunds.  And painter David Combs who labors all night in the lobby rendering his impression of the Chelsea as a back-to-Kansas tornado of flying chairs and dogs, referring to photos of the hotel’s doggie residents stored on his iPod.  “The place is a bit dysfunctional,” says Combs. “That is what makes it great.”

Chelsea Hotel StairwellChelsea Hotel Stairwell – Photo: Russell Johnson

There’s no service here, no bars, no restaurants, but its in Chelsea (which was named after the hotel not the other way around), with plenty of good restaurants in every price range, lots of life on the street and if you should you get bored, which is not too lilikely, The Rocky Horror Picture Show still plays every weekend at the cinema a few doors down.

That says it, doesn’t it?


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