For more than a century, the hulking Chelsea Hotel was the preeminent New York City hangout for artists, celebrities, and celebrity artists of every ilk—the good, the bad, and the Iggy (Pop, that is). The 220-room red-brick edifice at 222 West 23rd Street—built in 1884 and designated a city landmark in 1966—stopped taking reservations seven years ago. It was sold to a developer for a paltry $80 million and prepped for invasive gentrification therapy—renovation work that continues to this day, even though a few stalwart residents, whose ironclad rent agreements can’t be ended without their approval, still live in the old building.
This week, at the Ricco/Maresca Gallery, just three blocks from the Chelsea, Guernsey’s auction house conducted one of the year’s more interesting sales: 52 original doors from residences at the hotel. And these are no ordinary architectural relics: They are doors behind which Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road and Arthur C. Clarke hammered out 2001: A Space Odyssey, behind which Dylan Thomas drank and Leonard Cohen spent some quality time with Janis Joplin, and behind which Sid Vicious stabbed to death his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. The list of notables who have created and canoodled in the Chelsea, or just crashed and burned there, is downright dazzling, and many of them—from Mark Twain and Thomas Wolfe to Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, and Bob Dylan—were represented in the Guernsey sale by dingy wooden doors.
The auction was, by any estimate, a success. Humphrey Bogart’s door sold for the bargain price of $5,500, and Jackson Pollock’s door (painted only white, alas) went for $7,000. Jimi Hendrix’s door sold for $13,000. Jack Kerouac’s door sold for $30,000, and the door to actress Edie Sedgwick’s room, within which Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey shot the experimental film Chelsea Girls in 1966, went for $52,500. The Cohen/Joplin do-not-disturb door (to a room also used by singer Joni Mitchell, though hopefully not at the same time) went for $85,000. And Bob Dylan’s door, the star of the event, brought in a slammin’ $100,000.
The big disappointment of the sale was that Jim Morrison’s door—surely the door to have at a door sale—went for only $8,000. People are strange.
Guernsey’s proudly notes that a substantial portion of the proceeds from the sale will support the nonprofit City Harvest, a group that “rescues” millions of pounds of donated food and delivers it, via hundreds of soup kitchens, pantries, and community groups, to some 1.3 million New York–area residents facing hunger.