The Other Chelsea Hotel: Where Two Famous Dylans Slept
Now you’re smiling out the window
Of that crummy hotel
Over Washington Square
-Diamonds and Rust
Joan Baez penned the lyrics to “Diamonds and Rust” back in 1975. It was a bittersweet ode to Bob Dylan about their love affair a decade earlier, when they lived in a crummy residential hotel in the center of Greenwich Village.
Last week, I had lunch in the hotel formally known as crummy. Washington Square Hotel no longer fits the disparaging description bestowed upon it by Joan Baez; renovated and gussied up since those days in the mid-60’s. But while the carpet has been replaced, the history of the hotel hasn’t. It boasts an impressive roster of musicians and artists who, for decades, have carted their emotional and physical baggage down the storied hallways.
I’ve walked by the Washington Square Hotel countless times since I moved to New York many moons ago. While I was always somewhat curious about the place, I never ventured inside. By virtue of its location, kitty corner to Washington Square Park, I assumed there was probably some good folklore associated with the hotel. However, I never imaged the treasure trove of not-yet-rich and soon-to-be famous people who have stayed there since it opened in 1902.
Roger McGuinn, of the Byrds, moved into the hotel in 1963. At the time, the hotel was known as the Earle and McGuinn was known as Jim. He was writing songs for Bobby Darin and making $35 a week. He talks about those days, in the third person, in his blog:
This time in the village was a homeless one for Jim. He migrated from one friend’s apartment to another. One drifting night, he got off the bus near Washington Square and walked through the park to the Earl[e] Hotel. The hotel was beautifully situated for a folk musician. The folk clubs were close and every Sunday the sounds of 5-string banjos, 12-string guitars, 6-string guitars, mandolins, fiddles and tambourines flowed around the circular fountain in the middle of the park.
Shawn Phillips, a folk singer from Texas, smiled at Jim as he struggled through the door into the lobby of the Earl[e] Hotel burdened with his guitar, banjo, portable record player and suitcase.
“Hey Jim, looks like you’ve got all your worldly possessions. Are ya checking in?”
“Thinking about it. Do you know how much the rooms are?”
“The one I just checked out of was three dollars a night and its got a great view of the park.”
“That sounds good. What’s the room number?”
“707, like the plane, man. I know you’ll like it. I was there for a month.”
Jim walked into room 707, laid down his gear and opened the window to let in the winter’s night air. He had given the hotel clerk half of all his money for the weekly rate of fifteen dollars.
Michelle and John Phillips lived in a suite at the Earl[e] Hotel. Jim had met them a few years earlier in San Francisco, so it was natural to spend time in their suite sharing songs, drugs and their better view of Washington Square Park.
Michelle and John’s view included the Jefferson Clock, which they wrote about in their song “Twelve-thirty.”
I used to live in New York City
Every thing there was dark and dirty
Outside my window was a steeple
With a clock that always said 12:30
-Mamas & Papas
Ernest Hemingway stayed at the hotel for a few weeks in 1914, just before he went off to serve in WW1.
John Sebastian, Bill Cosby, Barbra Streisand, the B-52’s, Maynard Ferguson, Bo Diddley and even the Ramones have all checked in at 103 Waverly Place, across the street from where Jackson Pollock lived from1949-1950, and around the corner from where Eleanor Roosevelt had an apartment in 1942.
In the 1950’s, Dylan Thomas and his wife Caitlin were kicked out of the Beekman Hotel after, legend has it, the management got tired of his partying and excessive demands on room service. Seeking residence close to one of his favorite bars in Greenwich Village, the Minetta Tavern, Dylan checked into the Hotel Earle, described as a somewhat well-worn hotel, with an easygoing atmosphere and staff.
From a walking tour of Dylan’s old haunts, drawn up by Dylan’s daughter Aeronwy, who is also a poet, and Welsh writer Peter Thabit Jones.
He wrote a letter to his parents in May 1950 in which he described the Earle as “right in Washington Square, a beautiful Square, which is right in the middle of Greenwich Village, the artists’ quarter of New York”.
During his second tour in 1952, Dylan and Caitlin spent a couple of nights at the Hotel Earle.
Searching the Internet for more entertaining information about the hotel, I came across this posting on the blog Wired New York- Forum. The man’s profile lists him as HOF, a senior member from Ocala, Florida. For his profile picture, he uses a photo of George Carlin. His interests: The City; skyscrapers and the architects responsible; urban issues; jazz; fast cars, good smoke, cool women. His entry:
Hotels I Have Known
“Washington Square Hotel–Just off the Sq on Waverly. Small, clean rooms at cheap rates in a hotel starved area. When I was seventeen, I ran away from home and stayed there a couple months until my money ran out. Then, it was called the Hotel Earle. At the same time I was staying there, The Rolling Stones were too. They were on their first American tour and had never been to New York. I met them–all of them–in the little bar off the modest lobby. We all got drunk together. Mick’s a blast when he’s plastered.
When I stayed there in 2000, I could swear I got my old room.
Dylan lived there too, but I never met him.”
In April, at an Easter dinner in Chelsea, I met the current owners of the hotel, Judy Paul and her husband, Marc Garrett. Judy’s parents bought the hotel in 1973, renamed and remodeled the property. Her mother, Rita, has filled the halls, elevators and rooms with her own original artwork. Judy compared the hotel to the infamous Chelsea Hotel and talked about what it was like for her family to turn the hotel around from its not-so-glorious past from the downtrodden seventies to its current incarnation as a premier boutique hotel with afternoon teas and signature cocktails. Back in the seventies, it was an SRO (single room occupancy) filled with struggling musicians, a Shea Stadium janitor, a window washer and a few petty criminals. The last resident from those days moved out just a few years ago in 2004.
Judy and Marc invited me to lunch at the hotel. The restaurant has large picture windows overlooking Washington Square Park which bathes the room with sunlight. A huge bouquet of fresh-cut flowers creates a warm welcome, as does the breadbasket loaded up with a selection from Amy’s Bread and Pain d’Avignon. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. They never close for breakfast, remaining open 365 days a year. On Sunday afternoons, they do a jazz brunch. A few years back, one of the breakfast waitresses asked if they’d let her perform. She gave them a demo cd to listen to. The Pauls were impressed and gave her the green light. She went on to win five Grammy Awards. That waitress was Norah Jones.