The building originally comprised 80 flats, occupied by artists, writers, government officials and wealthy widows, but in 1905, after going into bankruptcy, the Chelsea became a residential hotel, and was subdivided into more than 300 rooms and suites. Mark Twain was a regular visitor. Following the Second World War it went into decline and prices fell, attracting a singular mixture of penurious writers, artists and eccentrics. From its earliest days, the Chelsea attracted literary and theatrical figures. Mark Twain and O Henry stayed there; so did Sarah Bernhardt and the artist Frida Kahlo. Mark Rothko used the old dining room as a studio.

Jackson Pollock signalled his disdain for the art establishment by vomiting on the carpet of the private dining room where Peggy Guggenheim was trying to introduce important collectors to his work. Her sister Hazel had the presence of mind to advise the restaurant manager to frame the vomit-stained carpet on the grounds that it would one day be worth millions. Vomit was not uncommon at the Chelsea. The accommodation was far from luxurious. The corridors were once described as having “the charm of a Soviet-era mental ward”, while the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko described his room as having “a smell of Dachau”.

“This hotel does not belong to America,” the playwright Arthur Miller, who lived in room 614 for six years following his divorce from Marilyn Monroe, once wrote. “There are no vacuum cleaners, no rules and no shame.” The decor, he observed, leaned less towards “grand hotel” than “Guatemalan maybe, or outer Queens”.

But the Chelsea had something that no amount of money or interior decoration could buy: a singular style and a unique legend.

It was a place where literary history was made. In November 1953 the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas collapsed into a coma in his room, following a monumental bender at the nearby White Horse Inn – “I’ve had 18 straight whiskies. I think that’s the record,” he said, after polishing off a bottle of Old Grandad – before being carted off to hospital to die. Charles R Jackson, the author of The Lost Weekend, committed suicide there in September 1968. On a happier note, Jack Kerouac and Gore Vidal retired to Kerouac’s room following a Greenwich Village bar crawl, resolving that “we owed it to literary history to couple”. Allen Ginsberg also lived at the Chelsea, and in the Eighties and Nineties it became almost a retirement home for ageing beats including the poets Gregory Corso and Herbert Huncke.

Patti Smith lived there with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in her Just Kids period. The jazz trumpeter Chet Baker nursed his heroin addiction there in the Eighties, around the time Madonna was also living in the hotel. She returned there in 1992 to shoot the photographs for her book Sex in room 822.

For more than 50 years the hotel was managed by a man named Stanley Bard. A sort of bohemian Medici, Bard would often accept paintings in lieu of rent (a shrewd move in the case of Rothko and Larry Rivers), which decorated the lobby and corridors. Bard displayed a high threshold of tolerance to quirks and enthusiasms. George Kleinsinger, the American composer best known for the children’s composition Tubby the Tuba, shared his apartment with a monkey, a 5ft iguana, a 12ft python, a pet alligator, and his twentysomething girlfriend (Kleinsinger was in his seventies).

“It maintained a very high standard of eccentricity, but it could get you down,” says Anthony Wall, who produced an Arena film for the BBC on the hotel in 1981, and spent several months living there. “I remember a cockroach the size of a rhinoceros beetle that sat on the floor in my room for three days just looking at me.”

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