Monday, August 22, 2011

Patti's Allerton

I wrote about the Allerton Hotel when it vanished in 2007 to become part of the Gem Hotel chain, but it is only now, after finally getting immersed in Patti Smith's excellent memoir Just Kids, that I get a full picture of what the Allerton was really like in its rock-bottom days.

verplanck's flickr

Smith recalls taking Robert Mapplethorpe to stay there, sick and broke, with nowhere else to go. She remembers their room: "The place reeked of piss and exterminator fluid, the wallpaper peeling like dead skin in summer." And the "lumpy pillow was crawling with lice."

"There was nothing romantic about this place, seeing half-naked guys trying to find a vein in limbs infested with sores. Everybody's door was open because it was so hot, and I had to avert my eyes as I shuttled to and from the bathroom." She says, "Never had I seen so much collective misery and lost hopes, forlorn souls who had fouled their lives."


She made friends with a morphine addict, formerly a ballet dancer, who drifted "through the hall like Isadora Duncan with chiffon streaming as he sang an atonal version of 'Wild Is the Wind.'"

Smith calls this character "the morphine angel" because he urged her to get herself and Mapplethorpe out of the purgatory of the Allerton and back to life. They escaped down the fire escape, hopped in a cab, and found a room at the Chelsea Hotel, where everything happened next.

circa 1950s

Post Script: The poet James Schuyler stayed at the Allerton in 1978, before he also escaped to the Chelsea Hotel, like Smith and Mapplethorpe before him.

Poet Charles North recalled visiting him there. In an interview, North called the Allerton "one of the most depressing places I have ever been in in my life... It was pretty horrifying, the fleabag of fleabags. [Schuyler's] room consisted of a bed, on which, at least the few times I saw him there, he lay surrounded by a sea of dirty laundry that reached just about to the height of the bed. And of course the smell was pretty bad. Moving to the Chelsea, with the help of his generous friends, I'm sure changed his life."

You can buy Just Kids at St. Mark's Bookshop--they've got plenty--and the works of James Schuyler, too.


Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

Don't forget my "100 Whores" is also available at St Marks Bookshop too, all about the girls/whores who crowded the streets of 3rd Ave between 12th & 14th St in the 1960s-70s.

And Patti Smith was a top contender/almost winner for the Lambda Award this year, I was on the committee that picked the winners, but in the end we gave it to Maria Pallotta-Chiaroll's "Border Sexulities."

Velvet VaVoom said...

"Just Kids" is my favorite book of 2011 so far -- beautifully written, and yes, it totally immerses you in "their" New York...I loved it!

randall said...

I wonder if even one person who stays there now knows what kind of spirits haunt that place?

From the Gem Hotel website:

"The GEM Hotel brand was born out of necessity in 2007 to provide excellent hospitality service in an unpretentious, accessible and sustainable manner. In our branded world of hyperbole, we strive to become authentic reflections of our neighborhoods, our people, and our guests. We hope that you will enjoy a unique and welcoming experience and please make sure to check out the GEMmine daily to get our team's latest local favorites. Also, don't forget to ask our concierge about the local artists and musicians that help define each GEM's personality."

Anonymous said...

Devoured "Just Kids" in 24 hours! Loved it and one day will read it again...

Marty Wombacher said...

I will definitely pick up a copy of "Just Kids," and while I'm at St. Marks I'll also get a copy of Mick's "100 Whores." And I'm voting every day for you and hope everyone else is too!

Grand St. said...

Oh man, Randall, I thought you made that stuff up. I actually checked GEM's website to see if the phrase "branded world of hyperbole" was really there. And it is! Closet-size rooms for $350 a night. Two massive retail spaces that have mostly sat empty for three years. All "born out of necessity" (and $17m).

I've lived near there for a while now, and I can't say that I miss the previous incarnation - the reports (even the sounds) of violence, the trash that occasionally bottle flew out of the hotel windows. Certainly, Patti's 1970s stay also sounds hellish.

...but looking at that 50s photo, you have to wonder if the Allerton (and its shiny marquee) ever enjoyed a glory phase.

Kagemusha said...

Read Just Kids when it first came out and never regretted spending such a wonderful time with a book. Great connection, Jeremiah

randall said...

@Grand St.

Thanks, but I ain't that creative.