When I started my walking tour on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, I already had several preconceived ideas about the neighborhood in my mind. Ever the diligent Duke student, I had done a small amount of research on Chelsea (i.e. extensive Googleing and reading blogs of people who had dedicated their own small corner of cyberspace to the neighborhood). With my map in one hand, notebook in the other and list of interesting things that I wanted to find during my afternoon in the area, I was completely prepared to see streets packed full of small art galleries, chic restaurants and expensive boutiques (all of which I easily found). But it was not until I put my map away and began looking around instead of fervently scribbling observations in my small moleskin that I truly saw Chelsea. And after I strayed from the pre-made guided tour did I encounter one of the most interesting pieces of history in the area: The Chelsea Hotel.
Even I had heard of this infamous residence. Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, Janis Joplin, Mark Twain, Tom Wolfe, and Jimi Hendrix (among numerous other bohemian writers and artists) had lived within the 12-story brick building. “2001: A Space Odyssey” was written by author Arthur Clarke during his stay at Hotel Chelsea. And Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols was charged with the murder of Nancy Spungen in their hotel room. The hotel’s reputation had preceded it: To so many people, it is known as a birthplace for bohemian art but also the home of bad behavior—that kind of reputation is sure to draw attention even today.
However, long-term residence are no longer allowed in the Chelsea Hotel and the maximum stay is just three weeks. And although a few decades have passed since the hotel was known for the bad behavior of its many famous residence, the history of the many artists who have lived there has been preserved in the lobby of the hotel (see image below). To see more about the inner workings of life at Hotel Chelsea, check out a blog that is fairly maintained and updated about issues and events. And as I have learned, it is quite common for people to wander through the bottom floor of the hotel even if they do not have a room—it has become one of the artistic staples for the Chelsea neighborhood, and I highly suggest taking an afternoon to see it.
After all, Hotel Chelsea is a perfect gallery for college students compared to the others in the area. As Arthur Miller once wrote, “This hotel does not belong to America. There are no vacuum cleaners, no rules and shame.”