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Bohemian rhapsody: inside New York’s Chelsea Hotel

The Chelsea Hotel has been residence to culture icons from Janis Joplin to Andy Warhol. As controversial renovations continue, Colin Miller images the inns last remaining apartments and their residents

In 2015, an building conglomerate approached me to take some photographs of the renovations they’d made to the historic Chelsea Hotel after the building was sold. The photographs I took were forgettable, but when I ogled down the iron staircase I see anything of the hotel’s former honour. Articles of the tenants’ artwork embellished the stairwell and amid the construction mess were visible clues of a vibrant community of local residents who attended deep for their residence. I had just been a vague appreciation of the Chelsea then, mainly through the movie Sid and Nancy and from living in New York on the edge of the punk scene.

An aura of honour and clevernes originated from the inn. Former residents include Allan Ginsberg, Arthur Miller, Stanley Kubrick, Bob Dylan and Patti Smith; Dylan Thomas and Nancy Spungen died there; Madonna lived and fire her Sex book there, and Leonard Cohen wrote two carols about the thing “hes had” there with Janis Joplin. Struck by what I had accompanied, I set out to photograph the homes of the last remaining occupants before the historical gangs were further sterilised. The Chelsea’s demise was imminent; I had a treasured few months before it would all disappear.

I met resident Tony Notarberardino for the first time in 2015 and enrolling his apartment was like crossing into another magnitude. In his living room, light by dozens of candles, my bride and I were rapt as he told us about their own lives in the hotel. His bedroom was decorated in deep reds and ochres and decorated as a kind of burlesque netherworld. When we stepped from the inn on to 23 rd Street the rackets of traffic unexpectedly returned and we knew ourselves back in the real world. But Tony’s home had created a distinct and potent displacement in my knowledge 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 period, an accumulation of the marks so many have saw on it. At least until now.

Red alarm: the accommodation of New York nightlife icon Susanne Bartsch, who arrived in Manhattan in 1987. She had an enormous impact on the city’s emerging lag panorama. Photograph: Colin Miller/ Courtesy of The Monacelli Press

The renovation of the Chelsea has progressed very slowly. The months unfolded to four years. In the intervening experience it has changed possession twice and it’s still unclear when the Chelsea will finally reopen. At the time of writing multiple suits are pending. In the midst of ongoing redevelopment there has been frightful destruction, but there have also been wins. The remaining holders have claimed their rent-stabilised status and may remain. Things are changing, but they’re not dying, as I had previously speculated. And, over period, my job derived from a requiem to a fete of what lives on at the Chelsea.

This project is about how creative people forge a residence for themselves during times of uproar. The images captivate a moment in this process and frame an instant of a city in constant change. Gone are the times when those living alternative lifestyles could find shelter in New York for paltry payments. But those masters who found that at the Chelsea have persisted; they’re still living creative and important lives. On one of my last-place shoots I met artist Bettina Grossman, a tenant at the Chelsea. I noticed on her opening, as I was leaving, a small scrap of newspaper with the handwritten words” Sanctuary- Protect the Magic .” I hope my work will help to preserve and share some of the magic.

Australian filmmaker Tony Notarberardino moved into the hotel in 1994, eventually landing in Dee Dee Ramone‘s old-fashioned apartment. It was previously occupied by master Vali Myers, who’d turned her area into a live skill station, and entertained peers including Patti Smith and Salvador Dali there. She decorated the walls in rich, earthy yellows, ruby-reds, and browns, interspersed with checkerboard patterns and animal photographs. Notarberardino has refused private developers, and argues that his refusal to renovate or leave is an important act of opposition that will help preserve the hotel’s history.” Beings want to come here and touch the wall that Jack Kerouac touched; they want that accuracy .” If nothing else, he accepts, the inn might once again allure artists and musicians at the pinnacles of their vocations.” The Chelsea’s going to outlive everybody .”

Indoor wonderland: Colleen Weinstein and her daughter Dahlia. Photograph: Colin Miller/ Courtesy of The Monacelli Press
With her husband , nightclub owned Arthur Weinstein, interior designer Colleen brought up their daughter Dahlia in the Chelsea. It took a while, though, for Colleen to come round to the apartment. The turning point was when they disclosed the original marble in the lobby. Since her father’s death, Dahlia has moved back in. As a kid she had mixed feeling about living in the inn, but ripened to adoration the actors, musicians and columnists who inhabited the lobby.” Everyone was so friendly and open about their lives and their occupations ,” she recollects.” As I got older, I appreciated it more .”

New York nightlife icon Susanne Bartsch arrived in Manhattan in 1987. Of her influence on the draw background, RuPaul said Bartsch” are caught up where Andy Warhol left off “. The transformation of her suite at the Chelsea has been a proxy for her personal life. With one lover she added a bedroom and veered hallway, with the next she coated the hallway electrical pink, amber, and purple, the bedroom red( with an antique opium bed) and mosaiced the shower with reflects. When she had a baby with her third partner, they took over the rooms once occupied by Janis Joplin.” The Chelsea Hotel is a bit like my mum ,” Bartsch says, because she feels taken care of here. An interior design feature formerly referred to her accommodation as a museum, but, says Bartsch,” It’s not that treasured .”

Hotel Chelsea: Living in the Last Bohemian Haven by Colin Miller and Ray Mock is out now( Monacelli Press, PS40 )

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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