Dreaming Walls – a look inside the legendary Chelsea Hotel as it undergoes transition
The legendary Chelsea Hotel, an icon of 1960s counterculture – former residents and regulars have included Patti Smith, Jim Morrison, Robert Mapplethorpe, and the superstars of Warhol’s factory – an artists’ refuge for over a century. Enough has been written about—and, perhaps, more written within—the Chelsea to satisfy history hounds the world over. Indeed, it is the hotel’s uniquely rich past which has made it iconic. Yet, those who know it do not define it by its historical significance, but, instead, by its ever-evolving, unmistakable otherness. Solid and sumptuous, eccentric yet beautiful, the Chelsea is a world unto itself: a decadent palace of peculiarity.
Caught between fear and frenzy, after eight years of construction and living with scaffolding and constant building, some 51 residents prepare for imminent upheaval as others protest or hole up in their rooms. Against this chaotic backdrop, the film explores the Utopian origins that contributed to the Chelsea’s mythical stature, and questions the challenges it confronts in the future. The walls themselves face yet another turning point in their common history, as the property reopens as a luxury hotel, and its longtime residents are forced to leave or relocate to make way for capitalism.
The famed Chelsea Hotel had many celebrities pass through it’s doors, and it also had it’s fair share of artists, junkies, prostitutes, and the destitute. For some unfortunate, they never left, either dying naturally, self-inflicted, or even murdered. However, this film is not about that. It’s about current residents who were asked to vacate their units to make way for developers to turn the historic property into a money-making luxury hotel. Some of these residents have been there since the 1980s, and their rent is reflective of that. So, they basically would have no place to live in Manhattan should they be tossed to the street.
Interviews give an inside look into the units, the residents who fought to stay, and the repercussions that followed. For those refusing to move, their units were sometimes reduced in size, and most others were asked to relocate altogether on the first floor. The ones who didn’t relocated were offered their own elevator, for fear they might have to meet the new found hotel guests at some point. Obviously, many of those who remained after so many years are also elderly seniors, so thankfully the developers took some compassion on them by letting them stay. It’s an eye-opening film that spotlights just one of thousands of similar experiences had by many nationwide. It begs the question, what price do you put on a human life when forging ahead with development?
For more on the history of the hotel, including its famous guests and residents, click here.
Available from Dogwoof Films.
Director: Amélie van Elmbt
Writers: Amélie van Elmbt & Maya Duverdier
Producers: Hanne Phlypo, Frédéric de Goldschmidt, Quentin Laurent, Simone van den Broek, David Herdies
Executive Producers: Martin Scorsese, Lori Cheatle
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.