More than just a building, the Chelsea Hotel is a living legend, an eccentric cocoon nurturing generations of geniuses and oddballs. Known to painters, writers, filmmakers, and musicians for over a century, it was the most free-style (and cheapest) place to stay in New York City, where kindred spirits mingled and creativity flourished.

The Chelsea Hotel

A Visual Storytelling by Lucas Compan

James Dean and Marilyn Monroe at the balcony of the Hotel Chelsea (1954)

The Hotel Chelsea – also called the Chelsea Hotel or simply The Chelsea, was built in 1884 as a co-operative apartment building for struggling artists, the mammoth red-brick edifice on New York’s West Twenty-Third Street had long been a magnet for writers, artists and musicians.

If the walls could speak, the tales they would tell

The Chelsea Hotel today. Built in 1884, the mammoth red-brick edifice on New York's West Twenty-Third Street had long been a magnet for writers, artists and musicians.

The guest register is a Who's Who of artistic brilliance. At the Chelsea Hotel Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road (1957); Bob Dylan penned Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands (1965); Madonna photographed her book Sex (1992); Leonard Cohen composed Chelsea Hotel #2 (about Janis Joplin); Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: An Space Odyssey; and Arthur Miller recovered from split with Marilyn Monroe. 

Jack Kerouac

Chelsea Hotel guest: Beat poet, painter and novelist Jack Kerouac. He wrote "On the Road" at the hotel

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen at a suite in the Chelsea Hotel in 1974, where he composed Chelsea Hotel #2 (about Janis Joplin)

                Bob Dylan                          Arthur C. Clarke

Bob Dylan penned Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands in the Chelsea Hotel

Arthur C. Clarke: In 1965, long-time Chelsea veteran, and his collaboration with filmmaker Stanley Kubrick


Madonna at the balcony of The Chelsea Hotel for her book Sex's photo shoot (1992)

Madonna posing for her book Sex: room 822 at The Chelsea Hotel (1992)

Mark Twain, Sarah Bernhardt, Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo, Allen Ginsberg, Iggy Pop, Brendan Behan, Simone de Beauvoir, Tennessee Williams, Stanley Kubrick, Dee Dee Ramone, Jackson Pollock – they all slept at The Chelsea Hotel.

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol’s movie “Chelsea Girls” was inspired by the hotel, and scenes were filmed in its rooms. After Sedgwick — alienated from Warhol and her addiction deepening — made the Chelsea her home, she set her room on fire.

The Chelsea Hotel in 1884

Architect Philip Hubert believed communal living across economic classes could cure societal woes. So he designed diverse living quarters: small working-class flats, grand residences for the rich, painters' studios, plus common areas (parlors, roof garden, restaurant) where all could mix. When the utopian model failed financially, it reopened as a hotel in 1905, and became the ideal heaven for bohemian life.

Stanley Bard, owner-manager from the late 1960s to 2007, coddled this scandalous clubhouse, often accepting paintings from struggling artists (later world-famous) in lieu of rent. He covered the wall with museum-worthy art. Bard would tell guests who came for a week that they would never leave. 

The Chelsea's lobby, shown above in 2007, was once filled with the work of its residents.

Two years after longtime owner Stanley Bard sold the historic Hotel Chelsea to a developer, the hotel has been sold once more, this time to a group of hotels.

As of August 1, 2011, the hotel stopped taking reservations for guests in order to begin renovations, but long-time residents remain in the building, some of them protected by state rent regulations. 

Photo by Linda Troeller

In 2013, The Chelsea Hotel's ownership was changing hands once again. In March 2016 the new owner left the enterprise. The renovation was running more than a year behind schedule and over budget. Since then, ongoing renovations at the famed hotel have been dragging on and expenses have run wild. 

Hotel Chelsea plans to reopen in 2017. The building has been a designated New York City landmark since 1966, and on the National Register of Historic Places since 1977.

This story was inspired by the book "111 Places In New York That You Must Not Miss" by Jo-Anne Elikann