The Last Bohemians of the Chelsea Hotel

Via Gothamist

The Chelsea Hotel on 23rd Street is an icon of NYC’s rich bohemian culture. If there was ever a building in NYC whose walls you wish could talk, the Chelsea would be on that very short list. The hotel dates back to the late 1800s, however its legend grew during the 1960s and 70s when writers, poets, (Allen Ginsburg) musicians and authors of all shapes and colors hung out there (Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey there), lived there (Sid and Nancy of the Sex Pistols. Nancy died there.), and died there (Dylan Thomas got sick while living there and died soon after at a local hospital) – an avant-garde melting pot of lower Manhattan.

Today, the Chelsea is a mess as it goes through an endless “renovation” (since 2011) that is being driven by some vacant hotel company that is slowly chipping away another piece of NYC’s unique tapestry. Even with all these changes, there are still many people who are long term tenants of the Chelsea, as profiled in a nice piece at Gothamist, and they are doing their best to keep the legend alive.

In its glory days, under the management of Stanley Bard (beloved by tenants, and son to David, one of the original 1939 owners), the Hotel Chelsea was a hub of activity, a bohemian palace for the city’s creatives, wanderers, and anyone who found themselves here in search of a New York City they saw through the works of Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, William S. Burroughs, and Patti Smith. Bard, who was ousted in 2007 and died in 2017, fostered a community in the building, something he once told Gothamist he regarded as a “Mutual Appreciation Society.” He preserved this and protected it fiercely while the place was under his stewardship, but it quickly diminished once he was gone.

These days, only about 50 residents remain, all protected by rent stabilization laws, and some of whom were originally assigned their room by Bard himself. Some of these last remaining holdouts are now the subject of a new coffee table book from Ray Mock and photographer Colin Miller, called Hotel Chelsea: Living in the Last Bohemian Haven (click through the above photos for a look).

Jen Carlson, Gothamist

The article has some great photos of several unique apartments that just bleed with a vibe that has long past. The one redeeming factor is that these long term tenants (about 50 of them) are protected by the NYC rent stabilization laws. So amongst all the construction and change at the Chelsea, behind those apartment doors are time capsules of the unique, edgy times that made the Chelsea legend.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Clayton Patterson has lived in the Lower East Side of NYC for the past 35 years and has run his Clayton Gallery over that same period of time. He created the Tattoo Society of NYC. He was the one who recorded all the mayhem during the Tomkin’s Square Park riots of 1988 – something that was not at all commonplace in the era before mobile technology. He is the epitome of what people describe as a ‘downtown bohemian’ from the hey day of downtown NYC scene in the 1970s. He was and is an agent of the underground creative scene that made downtown NYC, well, downtown NYC. But the NYC he once knew and loved has disappeared and he has recently decided to move to (of all places) Austria:

If the notion of a New York fixture like Mr. Patterson moving to a chalet in the Alps struck some in his circle as unfathomably strange, it nonetheless possessed a certain logic. There exists in Bad Ischl (Austria), Mr. Patterson contends, a creative community of artists, writers, tattoo designers and musicians that “is very much alive.”? Then, too, he happens to be big in Austria, unlike in New York. “They love me over there”? he said. “They think of me as America’s No. 1 underground photographer.”?

Still, as the news of his retreat leaked out, the downtown avant-garde shuddered with amazement and despair. Clayton is the neighborhood, or what’s left of it,” said Ron Kolm, a poet, editor and bookseller who once worked at the Strand with Patti Smith. “I guess I always figured that he’d be the last one standing, surrounded by tall buildings. This really is the end of an era.”?

CBGB goes away. Grey’s Papaya goes away. The Knitting Factory goes away. The story goes on and on. Yes, nothing lasts forever but maybe it is true that the real downtown vibe of NYC has also moved to Brooklyn.