Vintage Footage Shows a Young, Unknown Patti Smith & Robert Mapplethorpe Living at the Famed Chelsea Hotel (1970)

Here at Open Cul­ture, we can’t get enough of the Chelsea Hotel, which means we can’t get enough of the Chelsea Hotel in a cer­tain era, at the height of a cer­tain cul­tur­al moment in New York his­to­ry. Though it strug­gled as a busi­ness for years after it first opened as an apart­ment build­ing in 1884 and changed hands left and right until the 1970s, it hit its stride as an icon when a cer­tain crit­i­cal mass of well-known (or soon to be well known) musi­cians, writ­ers, artists, film­mak­ers, and oth­er­wise col­or­ful per­son­al­i­ties had put in time there. One such musi­cian, writer, artist in oth­er media, and col­or­ful per­son­al­i­ty indeed has an espe­cial­ly strong asso­ci­a­tion with the Chelsea: Pat­ti Smith.

You may remem­ber our post back in 2012 fea­tur­ing Smith read­ing her final let­ter to Robert Map­plethor­pe, which she includ­ed in Just Kids, her acclaimed mem­oir of her friend­ship with the con­tro­ver­sial pho­tog­ra­ph­er.

For a time, Smith and Map­plethor­pe lived in the Chelsea togeth­er, and in the footage above, shot in 1970 by a Ger­man doc­u­men­tary film crew, you can see them there in their nat­ur­al habi­tat. “The Chelsea was like a doll’s house in The Twi­light Zone, with a hun­dred rooms, each a small uni­verse,” Smith writes in Just Kids. “Every­one had some­thing to offer and nobody seemed to have much mon­ey. Even the suc­cess­ful seemed to have just enough to live like extrav­a­gant bums.”

These fif­teen min­utes of film also includes glimpses into a vari­ety of oth­er lives lived at the Chelsea as the 1970s began. If you’d like to see more of the place at its cul­tur­al zenith — made pos­si­ble by the state of 70s New York itself, which had infa­mous­ly hit some­thing of a nadir — have a look at the clip we fea­tured in 2013 of the Vel­vet Under­ground’s Nico singing “Chelsea Girls” there. Just after the 70s had gone, BBC’s Are­na turned up to shoot a doc­u­men­tary of their own, which we fea­tured last year. Smith has long since left the Chelsea, and Map­plethor­pe has long since left this world, but even now, as the hotel under­goes exten­sive ren­o­va­tions that began in 2011, some of those “extrav­a­gant bums” remain.

via Please Kill Me

Relat­ed Con­tent:

New York’s Famous Chelsea Hotel and Its Cre­ative Res­i­dents Revis­it­ed in a 1981 Doc­u­men­tary

Nico Sings “Chelsea Girls” in the Famous Chelsea Hotel

Iggy Pop Con­ducts a Tour of New York’s Low­er East Side, Cir­ca 1993

Pat­ti Smith Reads Her Final Words to Her Dear Friend Robert Map­plethor­pe

The Life and Con­tro­ver­sial Work of Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Robert Map­plethor­pe Pro­filed in 1988 Doc­u­men­tary

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­maand the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future? Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


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