As the saying goes, history does not always necessarily repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes. When Philip Hubert, an idealistic architect, created the Chelsea Association Building (later, and most famously, the Chelsea Hotel) in the late 19th century, New York was two cities, one superimposed on the other. In the first, the wealthy lived in huge, roomy houses; in the second, the poor were crammed into filthy, ramshackle tenements. Hubert’s vision was of a cooperative apartment block, a haven where artists and workers alike could live affordably, in comfort and dignity, by sharing the costs and responsibilities of running the building among themselves. The Chelsea offered salons and galleries and even featured a roof terrace that could serve both as a performance space (Mark Twain delivered a reading there) and a venue for residents and guests from all walks of life to mingle socially in ways impossible elsewhere in the rigidly stratified city. It was, at the time, NYC’s largest residential structure.
Even after the original economic model had collapsed and the apartment building became a hotel, much of Hubert’s dream managed to survive for an impressively long time. The Chelsea’s West 23rd Street location became an epicentre of cultural life, not just for New York City but for the United States.