Hotel Chelsea
Hotel Chelsea, 222 W. 23rd St. near 7th Ave. (2007)

Down the west wall of the venerable Chelsea the letters ELSEA still faintly appeared in 2007 (click for image).

The Chelsea was built as an apartment house in 1883-84, and was designed by the architect Philip Hubert. Philip Hubert is credited with originating the idea of the co-operative apartment house in New York City. According to Steven Gaines, The Sky's the Limit: Passion and Property in Manhattan (2005), p. 72, Hubert "first proposed [the idea] in a pamphlet he published in 1879." Gaines' account of Hubert's life goes as follows: born Paris, 1830, Philip Gengembre, moved with his family to Cincinnati, Ohio, 1846, changed his name to Hubert (Americans couldn't pronounce Gengembre), taught French in Philadelphia, invented a "self-fastening" button, sold the patent, moved to New York and became an architect.

Around 1881 Hubert proposed the scheme he called the Hubert Home Club, where an "investor would buy an apartment in a building ... maintained by a full staff of servants" (quoting Steven Gaines, p. 78). Hubert joined with architect-partner, James W. Pirsson, to design several such buildings. The first was the Rembrandt (1881) at 152 W. 57th St. The Chelsea came a few years later after some half dozen other Home Clubs, "including the Hawthorne and the Hubert, both on Fifty-ninth Street, and the Sevilla on Madison Avenue" (Gaines, p. 78). The Chelsea "Hubert Home Club lasted almost twenty years, until 1903, when hard times and the changing neighborhood caused it to go bankrupt... The building was reopened as the Hotel Chelsea... the only extant tribute to Hubert" (Gaines, p. 80).

Robert A. M. Stern, et. al., New York 1880: Architecture and Urbanism in the Gilded Age (1999), p. 548, describe Hubert as "something of an idealist, possibly influenced by the French utopian Charles Fourier, whose ideas, especially those calling for the reorganization of society into 'phalansteries,' or small communities, were given architectural expression as self-contained courtyard-bounding apartment houses."

Carl Guarneri, in The utopian alternative: Fourierism in nineteenth-century America (1991), p. 398, is far less equivocal about Fourier's influence on Hubert: "In the 1880s the New York architect Philip G. Hubert combined the apartment hotel concept with the idea of cooperative ownership through a joint-stock scheme. Called 'Hubert Home Clubs,' his projects featured large duplex units housing middle-class families and their servants, all using a central parlor and cleaning facilities. At least eight such clubs were successfully built and occupied in New York City. Hubert's ties to Fourierism were direct and familial, since his father, Colombe Gengembre, had been the architect at the French phalanstery of Condé-sur-Vesgre in 1832 and, after migrating to Ohio, a supporter of the American movement in the early 1850s."

For a more poetic view of Fourier see André Breton, Ode à Charles Fourier (1947).

Could be a mite difficult to date either of these signs. The Chelsea was erected in 1883-84, so it has been around a while... One of Berenice Abbott's photos dated 1936 shows a much smaller overhang neon sign. The fragment of painted sign could be quite early.

This ad for the Hotel Chelsea is from the Hotel Red Book, 1920.

This classified ad for the Hotel Chelsea appeared in the New York Times, 24 April 1954, p. 32.

The Chelsea Hotel was listed in Rider's New York City: A Guide-Book for Travelers, compiled and edited by Fremont Rider, 1916, as, "Chelsea, 224 W. 23rd st. (525 R. [rooms] 250 B. [baths]) Old hotel, somewhat off the main travel road." The rates were $1.50 single room, $2 single room with bath, $2.50 double room, and $3 double with bath.

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