In one hell of an entertaining read, Vanity Fair takes a deep dive into the history of our favorite eccentric wonderland?that under-construction bastion of art, drugs, sex, murder, music, models, trustafarians, and more: the Hotel Chelsea. Writer Nathaniel Rich tracked down several former residents, from Rufus Wainwright to Betsey Johnson, and teased out the best tales from when they called the 129-year-old red-brick goliath home. So forget the lawsuits, the leadership change-ups, and construction violations of today, as the past becomes even more distant and a King & Grove-run boutique hotel looms ahead afer $130 million in renovations. Here now, some of the choicest lines, from those that lived through the glorious, decrepit madness:
10) "I remember the first floor was only prostitutes and pimps ... It made Paris look like the provinces by comparison. But prostitutes and pimps were a part of the package of the Chelsea. And artists—I will not say that they are prostitutes, but they are selling themselves."
9) "I remember in the floor above me there was a man who had in his room a small alligator, two monkeys, and a snake."
8) "Edie Sedgwick set her mattress on fire. She was staying across the hallway from our apartment."
7) "Anything could happen in the elevator. It was either Janis Joplin or the big woman from the Mamas and the Papas who tried to kiss me in the elevator. I can't remember which."
6) "In those days, nobody was famous. Nobody was like whoa, except for Andy and Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger. Everyone else was on the same plane of having an idea, believing in it, and going for it. Needing to talk about it, needing support from other people in the same boat. It was a clique, but it was based on talent and passion rather than who you knew or how much money you had. It felt real homey and droll and addictive." [Betsey Johnson]
5) "The Chelsea then was bizarre and wonderful and strange. It was just coming out of its super drug haze. I remember there was a guy who sold grass. He had a five-foot-high pile of grass in the middle of his living room with roaches running out. It has always been a place where, because of Stanley [Bard, the longtime manager], you could do virtually anything short of murder, though that took place too.
4) "There were a lot of suicides out those windows. One night, a guy from a floor above us landed on a metal table in the courtyard?on his head."
3) "I loved it immediately because it was my ideal of bohemian heaven. People left their doors open; they'd invite you in for a glass of wine. It had a vital energy. At the same time, it was a little bit scary because, in addition to the artists and writers, there were all these crazy characters, schizophrenics and junkies and prostitutes. Mine is an S.R.O. room, so it's got no kitchen, and the bathroom, which is shared between four rooms, is next door. Junkies would break the lock and go in and shoot up all the time. That was the biggest problem. They'd stay there for hours because they would nod off on the toilet, and they'd leave needles and blood on the floor."
2) "If you paid your rent and didn't cause too much trouble with the manager, you could get away with almost anything. Many people became drug addicts here?including me for a period, when my partner died of AIDS?because you can do anything. The atmosphere encouraged outrageous adventures."
1) "You could go to one floor and talk about the theater with Stefan Brecht and go to another floor and talk to Arnold Weinstein about poetry and then have dinner downstairs with Arthur Miller. There aren't many buildings in New York like that."
Some comfort for Hotel Chelsea nostalgics, perhaps, is that King & Grove founder Ed Scheetz says the end result of the renovations will be something akin to the old Hotel Chelsea. "Some people say, 'Don't change anything. You're ruining the Chelsea!' That's Luddite. It's ridiculous. Are we destroying the spirit of the Chelsea? No. It was not destroyed, but it was trampled on for many decades, and we're trying to bring it back. I think we will successfully do that," he told VF. "There is no incentive for us to do a bad job or make it into shiny glass condos. Staying true to the spirit of the Chelsea is not just the right thing?it's the most profitable thing." Ah, reassurance.
· Where The Walls Still Talk [Vanity Fair]
· A Rare Look Inside The Old, Kinda Creepy Hotel Chelsea [Curbed]
· All Hotel Chelsea coverage [Curbed]