Cohen's sad, dirty classic from 1974 might have been about his encounter with Janis Joplin in a Chelsea elevator (and beyond), but he could have just as easily been praising the hotel, itself a classic harboring as has as many tales and secrets as there are bricks in its Victorian Gothic facade.
Its own tale is long and occasionally sordid: In the mid-nineteenth century, New York City was broke and divided, its coffers emptied by corrupt politicians and a vast chasm separating rich from the masses of the poor. Architect Philip Gengembre Hubert dreamed of reclaiming the city from the opportunists, reuniting its citizens within Utopian communities of art and commerce, mingling all economic classes and vocations. When the Hotel Chelsea--his signature achievement--opened in 1844 on West 23rd Street, it immediately became a beacon for artists and outcasts, its warren of hallways thoughtfully planned to encourage creativity and collaboration.
Over 150 years, the artists--writers, actors, painters, and later, the punks--kept coming, working and trysting (and recombining) in wild pairings: Sam Shepard and Patti Smith; Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe; Jack Kerouac and Gore Vidal; Cohen and Joplin; Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick; and, of course, Sid and Nancy. Dylan Thomas died at the Chelsea, and his namesake Bob Dylan wrote Blonde on Blonde there. Warhol's Superstars preened in its dining rooms, and Dee Dee Ramone detoxed in its otherwise junk-friendly confines.
While the Chelsea undergoes renovations and remodeling in preparation for its next phase, here is a by-no-means-comprehensive list of books celebrating its misfits, their art, and the monument.
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- "Death to the Fascist Insect": Patty Hearst, the SLA, and the Swinging 70s
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- Hell Hath Some Fury: 10 Minutes with a Punk Rock Icon
- Heart of Glass: Blondie, 1970s New York, and Chris Stein's Camera
- Hey, Ho, Let's Go! On the Road with the Ramones
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