Stanley Bard 1934–2017
Stanley Bard’s Chelsea Hotel was a haven for the bohemian demimonde. During Bard’s four-decade proprietorship, the 12-story Gothic fortress on Manhattan’s West 23rd Street was home to artists, writers, rock stars, and innumerable oddballs. Arthur C. Clarke, who called the Chelsea his “spiritual home,” wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey there. Arthur Miller moved into the hotel after his divorce from Marilyn Monroe. Bob Dylan composed much of his classic 1966 album Blonde on Blonde in Room 211. One longtime resident likened the Chelsea to a human menagerie, with Bard its beaming, benevolent keeper, lenient about rules and rent. “I don’t ever want the Chelsea to turn into a normal place just in business to make money,” Bard said. “I want to keep the atmosphere kooky but nice, eccentric but beautiful.” Born in the Bronx, Bard was the son of Hungarian-Jewish immigrants, said The New York Times.
His furrier father quit the profession “because of his allergies” and bought the Chelsea with two investors in 1947. It was already a New York cultural landmark: Past residents included Mark Twain, Frida Kahlo, and Thomas Wolfe. Bard started working at the Chelsea in 1957 “as a lumber’s assistant with a college degree,” and became manager and majority shareholder following his father’s death in 1964. During Bard’s ownership, “the only house rule seemed to be ‘anything goes,’” said The Times (U.K.). Wild, drug-fueled parties were common. Andy Warhol “superstar” Edie Sedgwick once set her mattress on fire at 2 a.m., forcing the hotel’s evacuation; in 1978 punk rocker Sid Vicious was arrested for allegedly stabbing girlfriend Nancy Spungen to death in Room 100. “Yet Bard had a Panglossian ability to disregard such mishaps.” He was equally relaxed about upkeep. Paint peeled, and “the cockroaches were alleged to be the size of rats.” Nevertheless the upbeat hotelier insisted his accommodations were “right up there with anything at the Plaza.”
Ultimately, Bard’s louche landmark fell victim to gentrification, as the once gritty neighborhood surrounding the Chelsea “became a hangout for hedge-fund managers,” said The Daily Telegraph (U.K.). Ousted in a boardroom coup in 2007, Bard retired to Florida, sad that his beloved hotel had been sold to high-end developers. “I created something over a lifetime that I thought was beautiful and worth preserving,” he said. “Why would anyone want to change that?”