A Silent Swan Song to the Chelsea Hotel

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A book could be written solely from the extensive list of residents who have resided at one point or another in NYC’s historic Hotel Chelsea (known colloquially as the Chelsea Hotel). But for photographer and author Linda Troeller, the Hotel wasn’t simply another stop on a sightseeing tour of the city; it was a home, a culture and with its own spirit, a friend. Documented in her book Living in the Chelsea Hotel, Troeller has catalogued her twenty years as a resident in the Hotel through three distinct perspectives on how the building has affected her own personal journey, and history in general. The bulk of its pages are given over to the perspective that her photographs can offer, silent pages often with simple titles such as Mailboxes, 1999 or Hallway Art, 2007. These present a powerful narrative when taken in sequence, showing the still thriving art community the building had first nurtured in the 1960’s under the guidance of owner Stanley Bard, still giving shelter to the same caliber of guests it is most famous for housing (e.g. Andy Warhol, Arthur Miller, etc.).

Troeller has catalogued her twenty years as a resident in the Hotel through three distinct perspectives on how the building has affected her own personal journey, and history in general.

This is the joyous life of a resident, of someone like Troeller who lived and loved in the Hotel (it’s even where she met her husband). But the pictures also show how the Hotel’s new management, who in 2011 closed the building for “renovations” and plan to reopen it in 2016, abruptly interrupted this community and threaten to destroy it forever. The pages of jubilation turn to images of destruction, such as my favorite of a door with an “X” on it during the closing, aptly titled Doors Marked as if During the Plague, 2011. Many longtime occupants were evicted with this renovation, and few are certain there will be a place for them to return to once it finishes. The written perspective Troeller presents condenses her 20 years in the Hotel into a swift love letter to the era this changing of the guard is ending. Troeller writes of the good and bad she experienced firsthand, from suicides to star struck success stories, always coming back to how life-changing the unique atmosphere the building offered its tenants and guests was to her. A revolving door of a community, she deftly describes how the Hotel breathed into them all a sense of comradery, with friendships made in elevator rides and crowded hallways, and you really feel as if you were among the artists she knew as her neighbors. There is an awful lot of namedropping, but it’s done not to brag but out of necessity, as all of these stories are tied up with the celebrities who found refuge in the walls of the Hotel to live a free life as normal people with problems and passions (or as normal a life as an artist can live). It’s hard to accurately describe how deep an impact the Chelsea has had on our culture, with odes to it penned by musicians from Leonard Cohen to Joni Mitchell, but in its third perspective the book comes closest, with written anecdotes from an array of artists, writers, musicians and other former residents who embraced the spirit of the Hotel the same way Troeller did. These all stand to solidify an imaginative plea for why the Hotel needs to stay true to its old self once it reopens in 2016. This is not simply a place for crazies to overdose or starving artists to hang their work, it is a womb in which the creative spirit is able to mature in a way no other place in the world can really offer. A mix between an artist residency, a commune, a gallery, a chapel, a yoga studio, a brothel, a slum, a palace, and something out of a Wes Anderson film, no other book captures the landscape of the Hotel quite like Troeller does in Living in the Chelsea Hotel. But thanks to the nature of her photographs, Troeller’s ode is a silent one, and in a way even more fitting to the ghost of the Hotel Chelsea.

Nathaniel Barlam

Nathaniel

Amid the unrest of earning his Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from RISD, Nathaniel manages to find the time to read, write, hang out with friends, play drums, and listen to music. Nathaniel has learned a lot about architecture firsthand thanks to opportunities to live and work in Rome and Brooklyn during the past year. Coming from a family with strong roots in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Nathaniel has always maintained a strong love for NYC especially, and after his studies finish up in Providence he may move there for a while. He hasn't decided yet. You can connect with him via Linkedin or by visiting his Portfolio page.

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