Posts Tagged ‘Manhattan When I Was Young’

An unexpected stay at the Chelsea Hotel in 1978

August 10, 2011

The long list of famous folks who made the Chelsea their home has been well-documented, especially since management shut the doors to short-term guests on August 1.

But what about the non-celeb working people who did a stint there? Author Mary Cantwell documented her time at the Chelsea with her teenage daughter while the two were between apartments in 1978.

“By now we had run out of sublets, and there was nothing for it but the Chelsea Hotel,” she writes in her 1995 memoir Manhattan, When I Was Young.

Cantwell explains that she’d been in the Chelsea three times previously and that “on leaving it one walked through scarred corridors to a street where old black men, and a few old white men, held sad travesties of cocktail parties with cheap wine in paper bags and a brave bonhomie.”

“I had a horror of the Chelsea, yet here we were, with three cats, a dog, a few clothes, our portable television set, and my hot rollers, lodged directly above the room in which Sid Vicious had murdered his girlfriend, Nancy, a few days before.

“‘Did you hear anything?’ the plainclothes man who knocked on our door asked. ‘We’re new here’ I answered, and tried to make it clear that we were only passing through.”

They ended up staying eight months, snug in small, overheated accommodations, before moving on:

“It was a cold winter, but the radiators shuddered with heat, and in the fireplace the Dura-Flame logs from the delicatessen shook with flame. . . . The dog and the three cats nudged us in our sleep, jubilant because they were never more than five feet from their owners.”

[Top: NYPL photo of the Chelsea in the 1920: right: the Chelsea in 1996; source: Gyrofrog]