When the Chelsea Hotel’s Doors Were Auctioned Off, These Homeowners Came Knocking

Bobby Sager thinks in bulk. He amassed 13 units in a luxury Boston high-rise to create for himself a spacious, highly individualized home occupying three floors.

The aerie is 10,000-plus square feet, has nine balconies and is filled with quirky collectibles, including a bathroom from a 747 airplane, a working submarine hatch that goes to the floor below and a 170-pound meteorite that landed in Ghana and is now displayed in a red Radio Flyer wagon in his foyer.

The biggest attention-getter, however, are the doors. They cost $403,000.

Bobby Sager, of Boston, with some of his Chelsea Hotel doors.


Bob O’Connor for The Wall Street Journal

Door Man

Bobby Sager of Boston bought dozens of doors from the Chelsea Hotel to hang in his Boston triplex. He plans other artistic ventures around the pieces

Bobby Sager created an art installation of some of his Chelsea Hotel doors in his three-floor home in a Boston high-rise. He paid $18,000 for Jim Morrison’s door.

Bob O’Connor for The Wall Street Journal

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Mr. Sager also bought those in bulk: 27 of some of the most iconic doors ever to seal off a room. The 67-year-old former partner and president of Gordon Brothers investment firm who is now a philanthropist and photographer, was the top bidder for the doors that once belonged to the Chelsea Hotel in New York City.

Three years ago, 52 doors from the storied hotel were sold at auction with gavel prices totaling $575,000.

The doors, belonging to rooms where many cultural legends had stayed over the years, had been thrown in the trash, victims of a renovation following the sale of the hotel in 2011 (the renovations continue to this day). They were rescued by a homeless man who once lived in the hotel and, with the help of friends, arranged for their sale by Guernsey’s auction house in New York. He shared the proceeds with City Harvest, a New York food charity.

The Chelsea Hotel in January. The 19th-century hotel was sold in 2011.


Kat Malott/The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Sager, bidding by phone from his six-bedroom, 12-bath triplex, won 19 of the doors, including the three top gavel prices: Bob Dylan’s Room 225 at $100,000, Janis Joplin/Leonard Cohen/Joni Mitchell’s Room 424 at $85,000, and Andy Warhol/Edie Sedgwick’s Room 105 at $52,500.

He also snagged No. 603, once used by Humphrey Bogart, for $5,500. After the auction, he bought an additional 13 doors (five to non-room areas), plus one stained-glass window from Janis Joplin’s room. That batch included two big gets: Jimi Hendrix’s Room 430 door ($37,500) and Jim Morrison’s Room 722 ($18,000).

Mr. Sager has a personal history with the hotel, which opened its doors on 23rd Street in 1884. He stayed intermittently from 1995 to 2010 in Bogie’s Room 603, where he wrote most of his 2009 book “The Power of the Invisible Sun,” a collection of photographs of children in war-torn countries.

Open Doors

The Chelsea display

Bobby Sager paid $100,000 for Bob Dylan’s Chelsea room door, which now hangs in his home.

Bob O’Connor for The Wall Street Journal

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“I was attracted, fascinated and enthralled by being at the Chelsea,” he says of the unexpected choice in lodging for a man of his means. “It was a creative cauldron, with all the good and bad that goes into cauldrons. People really dedicated themselves, sometimes in screwed-up ways, to the idea of having a voice, whether they were a writer, actor, musician or political activist.”

Today, a selection of the room doors are suspended from a ceiling on the middle floor (the 21st) of his home in an installation modeled after the pre-auction exhibit at the Ricco/Maresca Gallery. Door 603 leads to his bedroom.

Mr. Sager plans to take his installation around the globe, and is working on an accompanying album will include musical and spoken-word pieces created by the luminaries who lived at the hotel. Mr. Sager hopes it will tell the story of who stayed there, why, and what others can learn from their experiences.

Robin Brown built a music-theme guesthouse on her Prides Crossing, Mass., property centered on the two Chelsea doors she bought at auction for $1,800 and $3,500.


Robin Brown

While he insists he got every door he wanted, there was one big name he didn’t snag: Jerry Garcia. When asked what happened, he joked, “I don’t know, I might have gone to the bathroom.”

Laura Aswad was lucky he did. Ms. Aswad, 55, a producer at The Shed, a cultural center at Hudson Yards in Manhattan, wanted the door (No. 620) as a birthday present for her husband, Joseph Belluck, an attorney and avowed Deadhead who says he has seen more than 300 of the band’s concerts.

On the night of the auction, she, her husband, their two teenagers and their three dogs were crammed into a one-bedroom apartment they were staying in while their three-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan was under renovation. Unbeknown to her family, Ms. Aswad was bidding online.

“It turns out I was the only bidder,” she recalled. “I was shocked. I got it for $5,000.”

Laura Aswad paid $5,000 for the door to the Chelsea room where Jerry Garcia stayed. The door hangs in their Upper West Side apartment in Manhattan.


Kelly Marshall for The Wall Street Journal

It was delivered on April 26, 2018, her husband’s 51st birthday. Ms. Aswad gave it to him along with a packet of information about the musician’s history with the hotel.

“I remember unwrapping the door and thinking to myself, ‘What the hell is this?’ ” recalled Mr. Belluck of the reveal. “Then I read the paperwork and was overwhelmed, amazed and excited.”

It currently hangs like a work of art in their renovated apartment.

Ms. Aswad bought the Jerry Garcia door for her husband, Joe Belluck, a self-proclaimed Deadhead, for his birthday.


Kelly Marshall for The Wall Street Journal

James Siewert, 54, and Alysa Wakin, 52, were under a different type of stress that night. The couple, both attorneys, drove into the city from their Ridgefield, Conn., home with the goal of getting two doors of about the same look and size to replace existing closet doors.

Ms. Wakin has a long history with the Chelsea Hotel: first as an undergrad at New York University in the late 1980s and later, in the early aughts, when she went to the city to work on cases. She recalled: “It was embarrassing walking through the lobby in a suit. But I loved the contrast.”

Ten doors fit the couple’s size requirements, so after winning the first for $1,300, the pressure was on to get the second, which they did for $1,000. They now hang barn-door-style in their dining room.

“More than one person has asked if we’re going to repaint them,” said Ms. Wakin. “I want to say, ‘Are you insane?’ We paid extra for the dings and cracks and imperfections!”

The stained-glass window in Janis Joplin’s room. The Janis Joplin/Leonard Cohen/Joni Mitchell Room 424 door had the second-highest price at auction: $85,000.


Bob O’Connor for The Wall Street Journal


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Robin Brown also bought two doors—for $1,800 and $3,500—bidding online, and designed a guesthouse around them on her Prides Crossing, Mass., property. Ms. Brown, 60, who founded and sold CLAY Health Club + Spa in Manhattan, is now retired, but said she came from a musical family, once managed a rock club in Cambridge called Jack’s, and has long dated musicians, including an engagement to a tech for Aerosmith.

“I look at auctions all the time, so when I heard about this one, I jumped on it because I love anything to do with music, rock ’n’ roll, and the ’70s in New York,” she said. Her guesthouse décor has a musical theme and includes photos of Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious and Janis Joplin standing outside the Chelsea Hotel. One of the doors leads to a closet, the other to the bathroom. She also has an original Chelsea Hotel keychain.

Some doors were sold to foreign buyers. Nils Scheidhauer bought one for a building he owns in Bremen, Germany, that dates to 1875. Mr. Scheidhauer, 50, lives in one of the building’s five apartments and rents the others. He has a gallery space on the street level. He read about the auction in the magazine Der Spiegel and was trying to buy the door with a red eye painted over the peephole but stopped bidding at $3,500. The door ultimately went to—surprise!—Mr. Sager, for $10,000.

Nils Scheidhauer bought a hotel door for a building he owns in Bremen, Germany. It leads to the bathroom of his street-level gallery.


Tobias Hubel

“I was outbid on the red door, got frustrated and couldn’t decide on another door to bid on,” he recalled. “Before I knew it, the auction was over.” (It started at 1:30 a.m. in his time zone.)

He immediately emailed the auction house to inquire about the doors that didn’t sell. Mr. Scheidhauer was offered one for $1,550. With the buyer’s premium, crating and shipping, he spent a total of about $3,900.

He installed the door in his gallery space as the entrance to the bathroom, and says that some who come to see it are disappointed. “I got the boring door in a way but, of course, it’s not boring for me,” he said. “It’s an object from a spectacular place, a piece of history representing the hotel and everything that happened there, and now it’s in my place.”

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