The Chelsea Hotel has been home to culture icons from Janis Joplin to Andy Warhol. As contentious redevelopments continue, Colin Miller pictures the inns last-place remaining apartments and their residents
In 2015, an architecture house approached me to take some photographs of the renovations they’d made to the historic Chelsea Hotel after the building was sold. The photos I took were forgettable, but when I gazed down the iron staircase I see anything of the hotel’s former magnificence. Articles of the tenants’ artwork decorated the stairwell and amid the construction mess were visible signals of a vibrant community of residents who attended deeply for their home. I had only a ambiguous feel of the Chelsea then, mainly through the film Sid and Nancy and from living in New York on the edge of the punk scene.
An aura of notoriety and originality originated from the hotel. Former occupants include Allan Ginsberg, Arthur Miller, Stanley Kubrick, Bob Dylan and Patti Smith; Dylan Thomas and Nancy Spungen died there; Madonna lived and film her Sex volume there, and Leonard Cohen wrote two ballads about the affair he had there with Janis Joplin. Struck by what I had looked, I set out to photograph the homes of the last remaining inhabitants before the historic gangs were further sterilised. The Chelsea’s demise was imminent; I had a precious few months before it would all disappear.
I met resident Tony Notarberardino for the first time in 2015 and entering his apartment was like crossing into another feature. In his living room, lighted by dozens of candles, my bride and I were rapt as he told us about “peoples lives” in the inn. His bedroom was decorated in deep reds and ochres and embellished as a kind of burlesque netherworld. When we stepped from the hotel on to 23 rd Street the seems of traffic suddenly returned and we obtained ourselves back in the real world. But Tony’s home had created a distinct and potent alteration in my insight of the inn and I began to form a deeper understanding of the worlds beings carved out there: his apartment was not only an extension of his personality, but a accumulation of the lives of those who had lived there before him. The Chelsea is a collaboration across hour, an accumulation of the marks so many have reached on it. At least until now.