Living in the Chelsea Hotel

"..impressionistic photography memoir." - Penelope Green, NYTimes

Self-Portrait, El Quijote Restaurant, 1999

One the move-in day in 1994, Timor, a muscular bellhop, sped me on his white-fringed Harley motorcycle around our neighborhood to feel at home. Robert, on the night desk, playfully made fun of my outfits to keep me smiling. Jerry, on the day desk helped arrange a social worker to help with my mother's Alzheimer illness. My room housekeeper, Loretta, saw me through discouraging times and would take me in her arms. I met designer Alexander McQueen in for his lower East side fashion show which led to a visit to my room on the 8th floor to see my Healing Waters Photography Portfolio. He said grab your camera and come to shoot his event. When I got home I had my camera out and that’s how I started photographing around the hotel. It became part of my life there.

Gothic Staircase, Chelsea Hotel, 2005


Fire-escape, Chelsea Hotel, 1999


Ethan Hawke, Actor, Chelsea Hotel. 1999

He told me he was aware of the aesthetic of the Chelsea Hotel growing up. "I was a real lover of the whole bohemian world. You'd read about the punks staying in the Chelsea Hotel. Kerouac typed up “Naked Lunch” in the Chelsea Hotel. Dylan Thomas, Thomas Wolfe, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe fighting in the lobby, my God! No matter whose biography you read, you're like, “Whoa, I've got to go to that hotel!” Dylan Thomas wrote “Under Milk Wood” there which shows glimpses into people's lives and kind of paints a portrait of a whole community by just showing little glimpses."


Lobby, Chelsea Hotel, 2002


New Landlord Closes Chelsea Hotel, 2011


Demolition 7th floor, Chelsea Hotel, 2012

The hotel was closed to new guests in 2011 and in the middle of the night art was taken off the walls. Some artists were forced out due to back rent and others chose to leave. Jackhammers bombed the floorboards in the rooms next to me, electrical wires were exposed, and coated stained wood was sawed, emitting toxic fumes. Historical architectural details were destroyed and stained glass windows were busted. For me, mold infested my room and caused unbearable, abrasive swelling in my eyes and then invaded and ruined my clothes. Others have lost precious treasures as the new owner did not follow a number of building codes so the tenants’ association made some of these problems known. I moved out in 2013 facing eviction and returned to photograph in 2018. The hotel is still not opened but we all hope it does.


Photo of Arthur Miller by Andres Serrano in Scott Griffin’s Apartment, 2003


Amanda Lepore, Suzanne Barstch’s (Party Queen Events), 2008


Balcony, Chelsea Hotel, 2006

Bob Dylan moved in to apartment 211 with his new wife Sara, produced his album Blonde on Blonde and had his first son, Jesse whilst there. Joni Mitchell wrote her song Chelsea Morning about the place, which in turn inspired that hip couple, the Clintons, to name their daughter Chelsea. Other musical residents included Jimi Hendrix, Leonard Cohen, Jefferson Airplane, Patti Smith, The Band, Iggy Pop, Frank Zappa and, of course, Sid and Nancy.


Hiroya with Chelsea Hotel Plaques, 2006


Victor Bell Hop with Robin Williams, Comedian, Actor


Self-Portrait, Lobby, Chelsea Hotel, 2002

The Chelsea Hotel provided sometimes a paradise when it fulfilled the prophesy of art. Pour out what it is you came to do. Push limits. And that is what I wanted to do since I was twenty. At the Chelsea Hotel you simply pay your own room bill and enter a revered propelling lineage of creativity. Just walk in the doors and you saw the famous art strewn lobby from present and former residents. Living inside offered further assurance that you are the artistic person you wish to be. This atmosphere has been handed down. A mantra came with your key, “I can live my dreams here.”

Gerald Busby, Composer, Chelsea Hotel. 2016


Renovations, Chelsea Hotel, 2015


Seth and his daughter, 2018


Demolished Mahogany doors, Chelsea Hotel, 2018

Sid Vicious is said to haunt one of the elevators, which continues to make unexpected stops, despite repair. His room was merged with another but it is still asked about. What artist is in, and what is cool , mutated quickly at the Chelsea Hotel --the spirit of art community-- just doesn’t disappear amid three new landlords and still closed to guests.


Self-Portrait, Renovation 2018


Jeweler, Chelsea Hotel, 2018


Chelsea Guitars, Chelsea Hotel, 2018


Tim Sullivan and Hilary Farell, 2018


Homeless, Chelsea Hotel Facade, 2018


Man-Lai's Apartment, Chelsea Hotel, 2018


Christo, Jeanne Claude, Artists and Stanley Bard, Managing Director, 2000

We needed to construct the storefront piece for the Castelli Gallery show in our hotel room, as we had no money to rent a studio. Since we were from France, we weren’t sure this was allowed so Christo would use his saw late at night. One of the storefronts needed a doorknob and we loved the one on our bathroom door, so we exchanged that one for one from a local hardware store. The piece is now in the collection of the Hirshorn Museum in DC. Stanley told me the reason so many important people have stayed in the building-- is the building itself -- high ceilings, thick walls, good, northern light. A lot of galleries, dealers and artists use the rooms for viewing art. Soundproof walls permit writers and musicians to work together. Artists need to feel good in their environment. He learned that from my father who guided him to provide a nurturing atmosphere for creative people.