Tuesday 20 March 2018

Obituary: Stanley Bard

Manager of New York's Chelsea Hotel who nurtured talented writers and artists for more than 40 years

Enigmatic: Stanley Bard in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel in 2006 Photo: Allan Tannenbaum
Enigmatic: Stanley Bard in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel in 2006 Photo: Allan Tannenbaum

Stanley Bard, who died last Tuesday aged 82, was the co-owner and manager for more than 40 years of the Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd Street, Manhattan, a free-wheeling, dilapidated and distinctly grubby red-brick bolt-hole for a bohemian cast of writers, painters and musicians, drug fiends, drag queens and assorted deadbeats.

Built in 1883 when, at 12 storeys, it was among the tallest buildings in New York, the Chelsea became a residential hotel in 1905. Stanley Bard's father, David, bought a stake in it in 1947. Stanley began working there in 1957 and took over as managing director when his father died in 1964, continuing to work there until he was ousted in a boardroom coup on his 73rd birthday in 2007.

Describing the hotel under the Bard regime, Arthur Miller, who lived there for seven years, wrote that it was "not part of America, had no vacuum cleaners, no rules, no taste, no shame. It was a ceaseless party". In one room, Arthur C Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey, and in others Thomas Wolfe wrote You Can't Go Home Again, Jack Kerouac On The Road, and William Burroughs The Naked Lunch.

Dylan Thomas worked on the final version of Under Milk Wood there and drank 18 glasses of whiskey in a row in his room before falling into a coma and dying in a nearby hospital (a plaque on the hotel entrance informs visitors that the poet "lived and laboured last here at the Chelsea Hotel and from here sailed out to die"). Bard remembered the Welshman as being inebriated all the time, but then, "they're all like that over there".

The hotel became a favourite hang-out of denizens of Andy Warhol's Factory. Warhol filmed Chelsea Girls there and his muse Edie Sedgwick set fire to her room after passing out in bed with a lit cigarette. The Warhol "superstar" Viva lived in the hotel for 25 years while another Factory member, Danny Fields, held an Assassination Party the weekend after JFK was shot dead in Dallas - to "lift people out of their gloom".

Jackson Pollock threw up on the carpet at a launch party thrown for him in the hotel restaurant by Peggy Guggenheim (her sister urged the manager to cut out and frame the vomit-spattered patch as it was "likely to be worth millions someday"). In 1978 the Sex Pistols's Sid Vicious was arrested after his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, was found stabbed to death in room 100.

Many songs were written in and about the Chelsea, including by Nico, Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane and Joni Mitchell, whose Chelsea Morning is supposed to have given the Clintons the idea for their daughter's name. Leonard Cohen lived at the hotel when he was not at his home in Montreal or cottage on the Greek Island of Hydra, and his Chelsea Hotel No 2 (1974), recorded a probably not untypical encounter: "I remember you well in the Chelsea hotel/ you were talking so brave and so sweet/ giving me head on the unmade bed/ while the limousines wait in the street.''

In 2005 Cohen reluctantly confirmed that the lover in question was Janis Joplin, who threw noisy parties in her room as she succumbed to drug addiction. "She wouldn't mind," he said, "but my mother would be appalled".

Drugs were everywhere. Arthur Miller "watched the new age, the sixties, stagger into the Chelsea with its young bloodshot eyes". John Cale of Velvet Underground was "quite frankly frightened by the heroin allure... so Oriental in its darkness".

Bard took these decadent goings-on in his stride: "I knew Timothy Leary, Allen [Ginsberg] and that whole beat generation," he recalled. "I thought that each person had their own right to do what they wanted as long as it wasn't destructive to the hotel." He took a laid-back attitude to bills, often letting his more indigent tenants put off paying rent for months - even years - or, in the case of artists, accepting paintings in lieu. The hotel lobby was full of artworks, though the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe could not persuade Bard that his portraits of dying friends were a fair exchange for rent. (Bard let him stay anyway.) Despite the junkies and the suicides, rock 'n' roll casualties and celebrity excess, as Ed Hamilton, a former tenant, observed in Legends of the Chelsea Hotel: Living With Artists and Outlaws in New York's Rebel Mecca (2007), Bard had "a congenital inability to admit that anything bad has ever taken place in the hotel". In 2001 Bard claimed in an interview with The Daily Telegraph that "really it was only bad when the Grateful Dead came in".

Nor did he make any concessions to the normal rules of hotel management. In 2002 Arthur Miller wrote that when he moved into the hotel in 1960, Bard proudly showed him his room, assuring him that everything was "perfect": "As we walked to the bathroom, I noticed a worn path down the middle of the carpet and what felt like coal dust crunching under my shoes. 'The carpet', I started to say, but he cut me off. 'A new carpet is coming tomorrow', he said with raised index finger, and one knew he had not thought of replacing the carpet until that very minute."

Bard was said to run the hotel "by instinct", selecting tenants who would add to the creative mystique. "I don't ever want the Chelsea to turn into a normal place just in business to make money,'' he explained in 1983. "I want to keep the atmosphere kooky but nice, eccentric but beautiful."

While seeking artists as tenants made good business sense when the other professionals who came to the neighbourhood were prostitutes and crack dealers, it lacked something as a business model after the district became a hang-out for hedge-fund managers. Bard was ejected in 2007 and the hotel fell under the thrall of a commercial developer. It was subsequently sold.

Stanley Bard was born in the Bronx on June 16, 1934 to Jewish immigrants from Hungary.

Stanley was educated at Christopher Columbus High School and at New York University, where he studied accountancy and psychology.

He managed the hotel for more than 40 years until he was ousted, in later years with his son David and daughter Michelle. Stanley Bard's first wife, Alice, died in 1988, and he was separated from his second wife Phyllis. He is survived by the son and daughter of his first marriage.


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