Friday, April 27, 2012

At The Hotel Chelsea

In 1884 it was the tallest building in New York. It's storied past as a haven for artists and bohemians is well known. Sid Vicious's girlfriend Nancy Spungen was stabbed to death there. Edie Sedgwick set her bed on fire there. Charles R. Jackson, the man who wrote The Lost Weekend, committed suicide there. A bunch of artists too numerous to mention lived there. It is haunted with bohemian spirits.
Now The Chelsea as we know it is no more, another victim of the relentless advance of the future, or as it is called today, developers. Of course the new owner wanted to build a rooftop bar, which was immediately nixed by the area's community board.
Yesterday, I got a chance to get one last glimpse into its phantasmal vibe. The occasion was The Quality Of Presence, a collective art exhibit in the soon to be vacated apartment of one of its residents.

Wagging tongues were saying that Patti Smith, who once lived there, had been invited by new management to make her home there. Who knows if this is true. Being a complete cynic, I wouldn't be surprised. Once you are successful, you can no longer be a bohemian. She cancelled a private concert she was going to offer for the new owner, developer Joseph Chetrit, after longtime residents raised a stink. 
One could not expect this idiosyncratic, quintessential New York landmark to remain unscathed after so many years of benign (for artists) neglect, particularly when the entire town threatens to become the Meatpacking District. But that doesn't make it any less painful.
I was never inside it before, which I deeply regret, and I feel lucky that yesterday I was able to get one last glimpse before it is turned into some soulless, painful pastiche that will try to bank on its ineffable cool, and miserably fail. All we can hope is that the ghosts of bohemians past will scare the living daylights out of the new guests.
Of course, there had to be a no pictures policy in the building, which of course we disregarded. I took bad iPhone pictures:

What will become of fabulous El Quijote next door? I hope it is a landmark too. Losing it as well would be too much to bear.

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