Read of the Day: “The Guardian of the Chelsea Hotel”
6:00 pm, July 23rd | by Weiyu Li
Manhattan’s infamous Chelsea Hotel has come under the reign of new owners, real estate moguls who wish to turn the page on the landmark’s storied past. In today’s Read of the Day, Kathleen Caulderwood speaks to Jerry Weinstein, a Chelsea Hotel employee who manned the bohemian enclave’s front desk for thirty years.
Weinstein, now 79, never wanted to be in the hotel business. But it turns out the notoriously eccentric Chelsea was a perfect fit for the former social worker. After accepting the job from a childhood friend, he worked as the front desk manager and later as a tour guide for a total of three decades, until things got rocky a few years ago when new owners changed the landmark hotel for good.
“So thirty odd years later, I left,” Weinstein says, shaking his head.
Weinstein sits at a table in the downstairs common room at his apartment building in Fort Lee, New Jersey, just over the George Washington Bridge. It’s quiet. One family plays board games in a corner while other residents flip through copies of National Geographic and Reader’s Digest. Weinstein is peeling apart papers from a large stack he’s brought to show off.
On top of the pile is a demure print ad describing the hotel as a residence for artists, writers and “characters of the most singular and eccentric stripe which the imagination might conjure.”
Tucked behind that, a large card featuring a black-and-white photograph of a man and his dog wearing a puffy dress. The elaborate script invites the reader, cordially, to the birthday party of “Wallis, Duchess of Pug” in the Chelsea Hotel Lobby at 6:00 p.m.
A New York Times Sunday feature from 1993 details the eclectic collection of hotel tenants past and present, from playwright Arthur Miller, poet Dylan Thomas and actress Edie Sedgwick to Susan Hoffman (a.k.a. Viva, as she was named by Andy Warhol)and her daughter, Gaby, who would go on to become a successful film actress. Other articles mention the ghosts of Janis Joplin or Sid Vicious’s girlfriend Nancy Spungen (whom he allegedly killed in room 100) that supposedly haunt the place.
A colorful flyer from the bottom of the pile brings a smile to Weinstein’s face as he reads the text aloud. “The Chelsea Hotel Presents Jerry Weinstein’s Hotel Chelsea Art and History Tour.” In his later years there, he led daily tours for $40 a person, continuing even after he retired from the front desk. But that all ended when new owners took over in 2011 and began the process of re-designing the Chelsea.
The problems really started in 2007, when the hotel’s board of directors ousted Stanley Bard as its official manager. A childhood friend of Weinstein’s, Bard—whose own father managed the hotel from 1939—was the one who got him the front desk gig.
“Stanley did the managing,” Weinstein says, “I had all the fun.”
To read the full essay, click here.