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The Blog from Oi Polloi presents: by Ellie Foster •

Probably goes without saying, but buildings used to be a lot better than the metal-and-glass monstrosities you see springing up all over the place. Not only did they actually look decent, a fair few of them have interesting histories – be it the madhead architects who designed them or the people who ended up dwelling there.

With this new series, master builder Ellie Foster seeks to shine a light on the buildings with a bit of a story to tell. Take it away Ellie...

In 1960, when subcultures swelled and began to leak from New York’s bubbling underbelly onto the sidewalk, word on the street was that a bloke named Stanley Bard could sort you out with a decent albeit cheap-as-chips room in a gothic manor-type hotel complex, known as The Hotel Chelsea. Louder whispers said he was also partial to a nice painting or three and would often accept works of art as payment from tenants in sticky situations.

These droves of downtowners came for Stan, but undoubtedly, stayed for the ongoing series of bizarre happenings, eccentric clientele and extravagant soiree’s that would churn even Jay Gatsby’s debauched stomach

Unsurprisingly, disaffected flower children, folk troubadours and all manner of social deviants seeking alternative lifestyles descended on The Hotel Chelsea to see how they might go about getting resident status under what sounded like utopian management. These droves of downtowners came for Stan, but undoubtedly, stayed for the ongoing series of bizarre happenings, eccentric clientele and extravagant soiree’s that would churn even Jay Gatsby’s debauched stomach.

By the seventies, the Chelsea was filled to the proverbial rafters with sapling visionaries hoping to get a sweet slice of the pie. Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey cut their teeth as filmmakers in room 442, Patti Smith and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe occupied 1017 (a flat that best-described a glorified boiler cupboard), and Janis Joplin famously fellated Leonard Cohen in 424. This period was when The Chelsea cemented itself as an artist’s Shangri-La.

When the noughties came around, the dysfunctional private co-op was in a sorry state of disrepair. Most of the long-standing lodgers had accepted that the party had long-since died out and packed their bags for greener pastures, and New Yorkers had begun to get accustomed to the hotel’s dilapidated haunted house-type presence in the city.

Around 2011, a very ‘concerned’ developer, burdened with an extremely heavy wallet, suggested that a cool $80 mil should return the cultural gem back to its former glory… or, as many speculated, lay the foundations for an over-priced luxury tourist trap shrouded in celebrity allure. But we like to give people the benefit of the doubt with these things.

Over a decade since then, the hotel appears today as nothing more than your average building site, gutted of all historical value. However, amongst power tools and rubble, cloaked in eerie plumes of concrete dust, approximately 50 of the original residents still live there, a lot of whom inhabit the most outlandish interiors imaginable, and are surrounded by all manner of oddities from the building’s colourful past.

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