When the Hotel Chelsea Manhattan closed its doors for renovations in 2011, no one would’ve guessed they’d end up on the auction block. But they did. A total of 55 doors from the 250-room hotel, to be precise. But what’s so special about a plain, old, hotel room door?
The Chelsea Hotel is unlike any other and its remarkable story begins in 1883 when the great New York City landmark was built. Designed by architect Philip Gengembre Hubert, the hotel was the first apartment co-op of its kind, opening its doors to a pre-condominium lifestyle before it turned into a hotel in 1905.
It became home and a "Bohemian haven" for many great artists, musicians, writers, and thinkers. Writers like Mark Twain, Arthur Miller, Jack Kerouac, Arthur C. Clarke; actors and film directors like Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Stanley Kubrick, and Humphrey Bogart; musicians like Leonard Cohen, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan; and visual artists like Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, and Yves Klein.
For over a century...all of these people and more were residents, guests & habitués of the Chelsea. The Hotel’s bohemian environment led to wild parties as well as inspiration for such iconic figures. (Guernsey’s, NY).
A protected site since 1966, the Chelsea is a magnificent structure with Victoria Gothic red brick exterior and ornate iron balconies. The great staircase, stretching up to a grand height of 12 floors, is a thing of beauty and a feature of the building reserved only for guests and paying tourists.
Over the decades, the Chelsea Hotel has passed through many hands and various owners. In 2011, it was bought by real estate developer Joseph Chetrit for $80 Million US. That same year, after a fatal accident involving one of those ornate balconies coming loose, the Chelsea was closed for extensive renovations.
It was Jim Georgiou, a previous and long-term resident, who had the idea of salvaging the doors. Jim had called the hotel home since 2002. After nine years, he and his dog Teddy waved goodbye to their beloved home at the Chelsea during an unfortunate time when they were forced to live on the streets.
Homesick for the old place, Jim would sometimes drop by the hotel during renovations to use the washrooms. When he saw the discarded doors lying in a heap outside the hotel, the idea struck him to start collecting them. He saw these doors as precious artifacts worth preserving from "an epoch never to be witnessed again. The magic, the fantasy...the impossible realities lie within them all…"
One by one Jim managed to recover 55 doors and assign authentication to about half of them. He said:
For the next decade, while I lived in the building, not only was I witness to the magic of these hallowed halls, but was able to share thoughts, feelings, and anecdotes – a living history of the building – with my neighbors. These people were instrumental in unveiling the rich legacy behind these doors, allowing me to proceed with inspiration towards gaining a clearer and more elaborate story of the 'dream palace.'
Jim managed to get off the streets, but he hasn’t forgotten his ordeal. Auctioning off the Chelsea Hotel doors is his way of helping others no so fortunate as himself. Money made from the auction will benefit City Harvest, a non-profit organization that pioneered food rescue in 1982:
This year, City Harvest will rescue 59 million pounds of nutritious food and deliver it to 500 community food programs across New York City, helping to feed the nearly 1.3 million New Yorkers facing hunger.
If it weren’t for Jim Georgiou, a part of American history would’ve been lost to the scrap heap. The number of luminous figures that lived and stayed at the Chelsea is astonishing.
Door to Room #424
For example, behind door #424 is the late, great Leonard Cohen. He loved this hotel so much, he wrote a poem about it called, Chelsea Hotel No 2. It captures the love he experienced with fellow artist and musician Janis Joplin.
Joplin was in town recording her album, Cheap Thrills, and was also staying at the hotel at the time. But on this night in 1968, she spent the night with Cohen behind door #424.
Another amour, Joni Mitchell, also stayed behind door #424 with Cohen, spending time together in what is described as an intense but short-lived affair.
The starting bid for Door #424 is $5,000 and is expected to fetch as much as $100,000. It sold for $85,000.
Door to Room #406
Behind door #406 the great American novel – On The Road by Jack Kerouac – was written. The famous writer stayed at the hotel many times, spending the most time behind door #406. He met the great intellectual, Gore Vidal, who was also a regular at the Chelsea.
The starting bid for Door #406 is $5,000 and is expected to fetch as much as $100,000. It sold for $30,000.
Door to Room #211
Between 1970 and 1971, Bob Marley lived in the room behind door #211 with his friend Lee Jaffee, an artist and musician.
Door #211 is very famous as it is also related to Bob Dylan who stayed in this room in the 1960s. He wrote a song about his first wife in this room called, Sara:
Stayin' up for days in the Chelsea Hotel,
Writin' "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" for you.
Bob Dylan was born Zimmerman, but he was so inspired by the Chelsea Hotel that he changed his last name to Dylan after another well-known guest, the great poet Dylan Thomas.
The starting bid for Door #211 is $5,000 and is expected to fetch as much as $100,000. It sold for $100,000.
Door to Room #428
In the late part of the 1880s, Mark Twain was a resident of the famous Chelsea Hotel. Like most of the hotel’s guests and residents, Twain found the creative atmosphere of the hotel endlessly inspiring. He later bought a home on lower 5th Ave, but always held the view that the Hotel Chelsea was an artistic environment.
Door #428 was also linked to Brendan Behan, an Irish poet, novelist, and playwright, who thought of the Chelsea as his home away home. Behan wasn’t a welcome visitor at most other establishments, so Stanley Bard, the hotel’s manager at the time, open his doors to the "rough and raucous" Behan.
The starting bid for Door #428 is $5,000 and is expected to fetch as much as $100,000. It sold for $6,000.
Door to Room #603
The story goes that on a winter evening in 1951, Humphrey Bogart staggered into the Hotel Chelsea, a bit worse for drink. He was reportedly running away from some domestic dispute that had turned ugly. Drunk and disorderly, he checked into room #603 and preceded to trash the room before passing out. Sleeping off his hangover, he was late checking out the next morning.
The starting bid for Door #603 is $5,000 and is expected to fetch upwards of $10,000. It sold for $5,500.
Some of the doors have unknown origins. Despite the lack of provenance so far for these remaining doors, Jim Georgiou is determined he’ll uncover all of the stories behind the Hotel Chelsea doors. Objects of beauty, they might not be, but their historical relevance cannot be denied.