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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 contentious redevelopments continue, Colin Miller images the inns last-place remaining suites and their residents

In 2015, an structure conglomerate approached me to take some photographs of the renovations they’d made to the historic Chelsea Hotel after the building was sold. The images I took were forgettable, but when I gazed down the cast-iron staircase I see anything of the hotel’s former blessing. Segments of the tenants’ artwork decorated the stairwell and amid the construction mess were visible signalings of a vibrant parish of local residents who attended deeply for their residence. I had only a vague sense of the Chelsea then, mainly through the film Sid and Nancy and from living in New York on the leading edge of the punk scene.

An aura of notoriety and invention originated from the hotel. Former residents 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 journal there, and Leonard Cohen wrote two songs about the affair “hes had” there with Janis Joplin. Struck by what I had encountered, 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 treasured few months before it would all disappear.

I met resident Tony Notarberardino for the first time in 2015 and participating his apartment was like crossing into another facet. In his living room, light by dozens of candles, my wife and I were rapt as he told us about their own lives in the hotel. His bedroom was painted in deep reds and ochres and decorated as a kind of burlesque netherworld. When we stepped from the hotel on to 23 rd Street the clangs of traffic abruptly returned and we experienced ourselves back in the real world. But Tony’s home had created a distinct and potent shift in my feeling of the hotel 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 collecting of the lives of those who had lived there before him. The Chelsea is a collaboration across era, an accumulation of the marks so many have prepared on it. At least until now.

Red notify: the apartment of New York nightlife icon Susanne Bartsch, who arrived in Manhattan in 1987. She had an enormous impact on the city’s developing draw stage. Photograph: Colin Miller/ Courtesy of The Monacelli Press

The renovation of the Chelsea has progressed very slowly. The months strained to four years. In the intervening duration it has changed ownership 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 horrific devastation, but there have also been victories. The remaining renters have claimed their rent-stabilised status and may remain. Things are changing, but they’re not dying, as I had originally speculated. And, over time, my projection derived from a requiem to a festivity of what live on at the Chelsea.

This project is about how inventive people forge a neighbourhood for themselves during times of uproar. The photographs capture a moment in this process and frame an instantaneous of a city in constant transition. Gone are the times when those living alternative lifestyles could find shelter in New York for scant rents. But those artists who found that at the Chelsea have persisted; they’re still living imaginative and significant lives. On one of my last kills I met artist Bettina Grossman, a holder at the Chelsea. I noticed on her door, as I was leaving, a small scrap of article 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 suite. It was previously occupied by creator Vali Myers, who’d turned her chamber into a living art station, and entertained peers including Patti Smith and Salvador Dali there. She coated the walls in rich, earthy yellowishes, red-faceds, and chocolate-browns, interspersed with checkerboard patterns and animal photographs. Notarberardino has balk private developers, and is suggested that his refusal to renovate or leave is an important act of fighting that will help preserve the hotel’s history.” People want to come here and touch the wall that Jack Kerouac stroked; they want that legitimacy .” If nothing else, he belief, the hotel might once again allure masters and musicians at the tops of their jobs.” 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 proprietor 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 uncovered the original marble in the lobby. Since her father’s death, Dahlia has moved back in. As a kid she had mingled feeling about living in the hotel, but germinated to desire the actors, musicians and columnists who inhabited the lobby.” Everyone was so friendly and open about their lives and their occupations ,” she remembers.” As I got older, I appreciated it more .”

New York nightlife icon Susanne Bartsch arrived in Manhattan in 1987. Of her affect on the drag stage, RuPaul said Bartsch” picked up where Andy Warhol left off “. The metamorphosi of her apartment at the Chelsea has been a proxy for her personal life. With one boyfriend she added a bedroom and swerved hallway, with the next she decorated the hallway electrical pink, amber, and purple, the bedroom red( with an antique opium berthed) and mosaiced the shower with reflects. When she had a baby with her third partner, they took over the areas 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 once referred to her apartment 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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