Within its red bricks and walls of paintings, this is where artists escaped and inspired pop culture. In spite of its outdated rooms and people of the night, it continued to attract so many throughout its history, right up until it closed.
Founded in 1884, the hotel has given asylum to writers, artists, musicians, and actors throughout different times in its history. It has hosted movies, and inspired songs and works of art to be created. Writer William Burroughs, a regular there, wrote the novel Naked Lunch in 1959 when he was living in The Chelsea Hotel.
The Chelsea Hotel has attracted people all over because the building itself has its own personality, accepting all who enter its doors.
Often times we desire a place that allows us to escape the world in which we live. The hotel inspired freedom and toleration within the community, welcoming controversial writers like Arthur Miller and Joseph O’Neil, who made the hotel their home.
According to the book Chelsea Hotel, found in the collections of the New-York Historical Society, Arthur Miller once said, “Here you don’t have to wear a tie to pick up your keys. “Arthur Miller chose the Chelsea Hotel for his place of shelter when the news of his divorce with Marilyn Monroe first came out. He later on stayed for six years and made it his home.
Despite the building’s history of an alleged murder by punk bassist Sid Vicioius, and stars that have set their rooms on fire, people like Joseph O’Neil stayed and raised his family within its walls. Regardless of the scandalous stories, he remarked in an interview with The Guardian that “There’s a strong sense of community and it’s one of the last fragments of a counter-cultural unselfconscious place.”
The above article was written by Hua Lin Hsu, a 10th-grader from Eleanor Roosevelt High School in the Summer of 2015 as part of a partnership between Literary Manhattan and the New-York Historical Society Summer Scholars program. Click here to learn more. For the most recent updates on the hotel’s status click here to read the Hotel Chelsea Blog.
Patti Smith: The author lived here with her close friend and lover Robert Mapplethorpe from 1969 until 1972. There she learned from the older artists who also lived there and took inspiration from its eccentric residents. During this time, Smith was galvanized by the atmosphere of New York in the 1970s: the political climate, growing wealth disparity, and violence of the antiwar movement. With such an abundance of material in her reach, she further developed her love of writing, experimenting with different poems under the guidance of other Chelsea Hotel residents. Of her experience living at the hotel, Smith wrote:
Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs were all my teachers, each one passing through the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel, my new university.
Dylan Thomas: He began staying at the Chelsea Hotel after leaving the Beekman Tower Hotel and who he described as its “rat-faced staff,” in John Malcolm Brinnin’s biography: Dylan Thomas in America: an Intimate Notebook biography. During a night at the Chelsea, Thomas confessed to his lover, Liz Reitell, that he wished to die, weeping uncontrollably as he spoke of his wife and children. After a sleepless night, he left his room at 2 AM for drinks, according to Brinnin. Returning later in the morning, Thomas declared to Liz, “I’ve had eighteen straight whiskies. I think that’s a record.” As the story goes, he collapsed in his room a few days later, and was taken in an ambulance to St. Vincent’s Hospital on 8th Avenue and 34th St where he later died.