Down at the Chelsea

Not everyone at the storied hotel is a legend: stories from some of the Chelsea's lesser-known residents

He's lived in four different rooms at the hotel. "When I lived in 220, we used to rehearse in the room as a full band. That was one of the nicest things about the hotel: It was pretty open. There were classical musicians, and they'd practice in the hallway. There was always someone getting together and gathering round. It was kind of like a dormitory."

He's been in his current spot since 1986. He no longer shares it with bandmates but with three cats, one of whom cost him $10,000 to cure its fatty liver disease. That caused Sullivan to fall several months behind on his $1,325-a-month rent. But he eventually caught up. "I always pay up," he says, scoffing at the misconception that people there are living on the cheap or rent-free. Stanley Bard's system was just more forgiving, he says, letting people slide until they sold a painting or got a large commission.

One of the most vocal opponents of Bard's ouster, Sullivan thinks the new management will miss the point if they renovate the building and relocate the residents. "This place is an enchanted building, and the reason why it's enchanted is because of the people who have lived here and who live here now. It's the only reason why people come to the hotel."

Victor Bockris.
photo: Alana Cundy
Victor Bockris.


Portraits from the Chelsea
by Linda Troeller and Alana Cundy

Linda Troeller, 58
Photographer. Resident since 1994.

Photographer Linda Troeller, like many Chelsea residents, has an introductory story so outrageous, it almost seems made up: When Stanley Bard showed Troller her first room in 1994, she was greeted by a snake in a cage. "He was like, 'Don't worry—it'll be out when the tenants are gone.' He didn't know that it was there."

She ended up across the hall from Beat poet Hubert Huncke, who was then 82 years old. "He invited me over for drinks and he would read his poetry. He scribbled on the walls. And on that floor, a Japanese magazine had someone write poetry in a room, and then they had a big party with like 300 or 400 people. So the entire floor was busy."

Troeller's room is lined with giant C-prints of ethereal images—moody visions of water and shimmery light. Troeller says that just being at the Chelsea has opened doors. She met fashion designer Alexander McQueen in the lobby, as well as countless European art dealers, who stay at the hotel for its proximity to the galleries. The building shows up in her work: She's published eight books, including the acclaimed The Erotic Lives of Women (Scalo), which contains several images shot in the hotel. Before the management switch, she'd been putting together another book, Atmosphere: An Artist's Memoir of the Chelsea Hotel.

Once an assistant for Ansel Adams, Troeller also has a house in New Jersey, but she still calls the Chelsea home. "[This place] is just a continuation . . . . There's an attitude at the hotel, with new people coming with their fresh dreams: 'Let's stay at it.' Herbert Huncke died here at 84, still making poems. You don't have to stop because you're a certain age. You can have a creative life."

Martabel Wasserman
photo: Alana Cundy
Martabel Wasserman, 19
Artist. Resident since spring 2007.

Harvard student Martabel Wasserman is living in the Chelsea Hotel on her summer break. Her comparatively spacious room, with its curved windows and full kitchen and bathroom, is nicer than the apartments of many longtime residents. Her rent is being paid by her well-off father; she's blissfully unaware of what it costs. (Though the Chelsea stopped letting new residents in long ago, her dad, David Wasserman, called in a favor to Bard.) Yet she feeds as much from the Chelsea's energy as the old-timers. "Someone once said, 'It's like a club—once you're in, you're in.'" She even has an old-school Chelsea connection: Her first art show, at 14, took place at Gracie Mansion and consisted of photos she'd taken at a party at the house of Warhol superstar "Baby Jane" Holzer.

While most people in Wasserman's position might spend their nights partying on the Lower East Side and their days sleeping in, Wasserman fills her hours with work: three days a week at an internship for Human Rights Watch, overseeing the relaunch of the Harvard sex magazine H-Bomb, and working on her own art (she's just closed a show at the I-20 Gallery)—curious collages that depict shopworn women in empty doll houses.

At Harvard, she took a class taught by a member of Galaxie 500 about '60s culture. "It was cool to see all these legends that I was studying from an academic perspective, and then to share the same space that they were in. . . . I guess I am sort of nostalgic for a time that I wasn't even alive, but that's something that draws me to this place."

She'd rather hang with the elder statesmen of the hotel, but says she has yet to meet them because she's intimidated. Wasserman has little affinity for people her own age. "The Williamsburg hipster is contrived. This is the authentic version. People are really themselves here—they are not subscribing to some trend. People here are really living their own way.

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