Chelsea Hotel Photo: Beyond My Ken Own Work–Wikepedia Commons
Over the years, the Chelsea Hotel, with its big, red neon light sign out front, on West 23rd Street in Manhattan, was home to such stars as Mark Twain, Bette Davis, John Wayne, Leonard Bernstein, Jane Fonda and her second husband Tom Hayden, Arthur Miller, Dylan Thomas, Peggy Guggenheim, Jackson Pollock, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Andy Warhol and many, many more. It was also home to Mark Rothko, Larry Rivers, Ethan Hawke, Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan, and the list goes on. The Chelsea Hotel attracted many lesser-known artists as well.
The Chelsea Hotel was home to (from left) artist Andy Warhol, playwright Arthur Miller and author Gore Vidal
It was the kind of hotel to which you could owe a week’s rent, a month’s rent or even a year’s rent until you were able to pay. In the interim, some artists, for example, gave their paintings in lieu of cash. The Chelsea hung them throughout the hotel. Many of the artists were hungry and their paintings were for sale at bargain prices.
And then there was my friend Jerry Weinstein, a long-time Chelsea Hotel front desk manager. Among other things he conducted tours of the hotel for $40 a person. Jerry had a great relationship with many of the permanent tenants and they opened up their apartments and studios to him and his tours. This was okay with the hotel owners as it was good advertising for them. He would talk about the artists and their artwork lining the halls and stairwells. He talked about the famous and often odd guests, who are a part of the Chelsea’s history. Jerry was so well liked at the Chelsea that some of the artists made him a gift of their paintings which now hang in his apartment in New Jersey. Sadly, Jerry passed away in 2015 and he is missed by a myriad of people.
As for the Chelsea Hotel’s history, here are some favorite stories: Peggy Guggenheim gave a luncheon at the hotel to introduce an unknown Jackson Pollock to a crowd of rich collectors. Pollock proceeded to get drunk and vomited on the floor. Peggy’s sister suggested that the hotel cut out and preserve the square piece of carpet because someday it would be worth millions.
Arthur Miller courted Marilyn Monroe while he resided at the Chelsea Hotel. After they married, Arthur and Marilyn lived elsewhere, but he returned to the hotel after Marilyn died, and it was there that he mourned her passing.
Beat Generation poet, Allen Ginsberg, was a regular guest at the Chelsea Hotel. Writers Jack Kerouac and Gore Vidal had a one-night affair at the Chelsea. They encouraged the night clerk to preserve the registry where they signed their real names, claiming that they would be famous one day.
Andy Warhol shot his six and a half hour film, “Chelsea Girls”, directly in the hotel. It became the first underground film to be screened in an art theater.
The lobby of the Chelsea Hotel in New York’s Manhatten Photo: Historystuff2 via Wikimedia Commons
One night, Leonard Cohen and a drunken Janis Joplin were going up together in the Chelsea Hotel elevator. He asked her who she was there to see. She said, “Kris Kristofferson.” Cohen replied that she was in luck; “I am Kris Kristofferson”, and together they went up to Cohen’s suite. That night later became a part of his song “Chelsea Hotel No. 2”.
Alas, the Chelsea Hotel was recently sold and is now undergoing renovation. Some of the long-term residents are holding out and don’t want to leave. There are some ordinary people still living there. The hotel is worth a visit as some of the artwork remains. Lenore, my lovely wife, and I were on one of the last Jerry Weinstein tours of the Chelsea Hotel. Instead of paying Jerry $40 a person, our group of friends took him to lunch next door at the wonderful El Quijote Spanish restaurant.
If you happen to be in that neighborhood, you are close to other New York hot spots like the Chelsea Market, New York High Line Park (once an elevated railroad track), the Meatpacking District (now full of restaurants and upscale, trendy shops), the Highline Ballroom (formerly a huge loft) for Sunday brunch and musical entertainment, the West Village and the new Whitney Museum of American Art.