25 Artistic Things to Do in Chelsea

Chelsea montage

(revised, 2015) The phenomenal popularity of the High Line on the West Side has no doubt introduced many visitors to the pleasures of Chelsea, the multifaceted eclectic neighborhood that stretches out below. On the west side of the rails, between W. 13th and W. 29th or so, the Chelsea Gallery District is home to hundreds of contemporary art galleries in repurposed warehouses. New luxury residences rise up around these spaces, taking advantage of the stunning Hudson River views. On the east side of the line, the iconic Empire State Building comes into the picture, but closer in, the Gothic Revival outlines of the General Theological Seminary represent the neighborhood's roots in an earlier century.

Chelsea is a remarkable neighborhood bound together by an artistic and visual history, but it's also a community held together by social institutions - schools, historic houses of worship, affordable housing under the auspices of the city's housing authority, and businesses with deep ties to the area. Yet, a great deal of modern Chelsea is in the state of nervous flux, exemplified by its most famous hotel, currently shuttered for renovations. The best way to scope out what's happening in Chelsea is to get off that high horse overhead, the one with the pretty saddles, and walk its historic streets.

High Line
That's a pretty picture of a scene on the High Line above, but come on down to see Chelsea at street level.

The approximate boundaries of Chelsea: 14th St. on the south to 34th St. on the north. Hudson River marks the western boundary. 6th or 7th Avenue and Ladies Mile Historic District are on the east. Chelsea derives from the name of the estate belonging to the Clarke family. The patriarch, Thomas Clarke, a retired British general, named the estate after London's Chelsea. More on Clement Clarke Moore ahead in this post. Clarke's vast Manhattan property extended from what's now 8th Avenue to the Hudson, with his daughter and her husband extending the original property between 21st and 24th Streets south to 19th Street.

25 Artistic Things to Do in Chelsea

1. Walk the High Line for an overview, if you have not done so already. Begin on the south near Washington Street and Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District and continue north through Chelsea to near W. 30th Street. To explore the historic district, take the steps at W. 20th down to the street and walk east. http://www.thehighline.org/

2. Stroll the Chelsea Historic District. Boundaries are W. 20th to W. 22nd Streets, between 8th and 10th Avenues. While the whole neighborhood presents a range of building styles, the town-house blocks in varying moods of Italianate, Greek Revival, and other popular styles of the 19th century set an Old World mood for a long walk. Map from the city. http://www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/maps/chelsea.pdf

3. Visit Clement Clarke Moore Park, located at 10th Avenue and 22nd Street. The Clarke family manor house, located at what is now Eighth Avenue and West 23rd, was called "Chelsea." At the time he wrote (or appropriated, as some claim) his famous poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas," Clement Moore was a Professor at the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church. He had donated the family land for use as a seminary, and the still-thriving seminary stands today along Ninth Avenue between 20th and 21st Streets. Another popular park, Chelsea Park is located between W. 27th and W. 28th along 10th Avenue, near the northern part of the High Line.

Gehry/Nouvel in Chelsea
Starchitecture. Jean Nouvel's 100 Eleventh Avenue reflected in Frank Gehry's IAC building.

4. Are you an English muffin fan? Pay your respects at The Muffin House. 337 West 20th Street in Chelsea. Built in 1850. In the early 20th century Samuel Bath Thomas used the building for his famous muffins. The arched brick ovens remain in the building courtyard. No muffins here, though. You'll have to get them at the grocery store.

5. Explore General Theological Seminary, an educational institution affiliated with the Episcopal Church. The gardens provide a beautiful oasis in Manhattan. Enter from W. 21st Street. Gardens are "usually" open (as a sign indicates) from 10 am to 3 pm, but closed Sundays. http://www.gts.edu/

6. Visit Chelsea's historic churches. Among them - the Church of the Guardian Angel, situated at the northwest corner of W. 21st St. and Tenth Avenue. The church was built in 1930, designed by architect John Van Pelt in the Italian Romanesque style. The church is an active Catholic church in the neighborhood with its own parochial school. Many other churches are worth checking out such as St. Peter's Church, built according to designs of Clement Clarke Moore, and Church of the Holy Apostles.

7. Attend performances of the Atlantic Theater Company. David Mamet and William H. Macy founded this company in 1985. Known for debuts of original plays, revivals, and ensemble acting. One of the company's stages, the Linda Gross Theater at 336 W. 20th Street, is currently in renovations. http://www.atlantictheater.org/

8. Break out in disco moves at the former Limelight club. After ventures in Miami and Atlanta, in 1980 club impresario Peter Gatien found in New York the thing he was looking for, a former Episcopal church on the corner of 6th Avenue and W. 20th St. in Chelsea. After paying $1.7 million for the property and pouring more than $5 million into its renovation, Limelight opened its doors in 1983, and the party started. A recent experiment of upscale shops in the space, the Limelight Marketplace, failed to take off. A new store called Limelight along with food and drinking places is scheduled to open in the fall. Read about a recent documentary on the club on Walking Off the Big Apple.

Joyce Theater
The Joyce is known as an exceptional dance theater.

9. Learn about Himalayan art at the Rubin Art Museum, 150 W. 17th St. One of the wonderful small museums, the Rubin not only displays the finest collection of art of this kind in the Western world but offers an exceptional program of special events. Browse the gift shop and enjoy a cup of tea in the museum's excellent cafe. http://www.rmanyc.org/

10. Wander the gallery district for exhibitions by contemporary artists. Sleepy in August, many galleries shut their doors in preparation for the new season. For art fans, there's nothing more exciting than a crisp Thursday evening in the fall, when dozens of galleries in Chelsea hold openings on the same night. To plan a visit with multiple openings, I often use http://oneartworld.com/

11. Visit the Whitney Museum of American Art on the south end of the High Line. http://whitney.org

12. Worship at the feet of Starchitecture. Especially on the west side and near the High Line, forward-looking architecture has made Chelsea a particularly rich design landscape. For example, visit Frank Gehry's IAC Headquarters and Jean Nouvel's 100 Eleventh Avenue on the south and north sides of W. 19th at 11th Avenue.

13. See a performance at The Kitchen, 512 West 19th Street. The established non-profit experimental cultural institution features a variety of performing arts programs as well as exhibitions.

The Kitchen
One of the most respected performance venues in the city - The Kitchen.

14. Discover art at the Cue Art Foundation, 511 West 25th Street, Ground Floor. Though closed the month of August, this nonprofit art space provides engaging and thoughtful curated exhibitions. Look for an upcoming exhibition of The Oakes Twins curated by longtime New Yorker critic Lawrence Weschler. http://www.cueartfoundation.org/

15. Eat your way through the Chelsea Market, 460 W. 16th St. This food-obsessed real market is housed in the former factory for the National Biscuit Company. In the 1990s the complex was refashioned with design elements reflecting industrial history and also a fake waterfall. http://chelseamarket.com/

16. Buy some flowers at the Chelsea Flower Market, W. 28th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. Buy lots of flowers and plants at wholesale prices, and then figure out after how to get them home.

17. See a modern dance performance at The Joyce Theater, 175 8th Avenue. The Art Moderne building from 1941 originally served as a movie theater, but now it's home to a well-respected dance theater. http://www.joyce.org/

18. Count the portholes at the Maritime Hotel, 363 West 16th Street. The striking 1966 design was originally intended for the National Maritime Union of America. Now an upscale hotel. Cute website. http://www.themaritimehotel.com/

Eyebeam, where art and technology meet.

19. Behold the wonders of the gigantic boy. Brazilian artist brothers, Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo, known as Os Gemeos, along with Futura, the AKANYCcreative studio ,and street art website 12ozProphet, created an extraordinary giant mural - one of their "Gigantes" - on the wall of P.S. 11. The message to the children at play below is that all peoples of the world are united as one. See the documentation of the mural on their website. http://osgemeos.com.br/index.php/blog/arquivo/osgemeos-and-futura2000-nyc/

20. Mourn the Chelsea Hotel, closed for renovation, one of the most important cultural sites in New York. Creative types enlivened this space, celebrated in songs and movies. For one fabulous introduction to the life inside the Chelsea, see Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls (1966). While the renovation is underway, reservations are no longer being taken. You may as well go to the Doughnut Plant at street level to dunk your sorrows. 222 West 23rd Street. Sad, sad. http://www.hotelchelsea.com/

21. Gaze at the wonders of massive buildings. Chelsea is home to enormous buildings, for example the Starrett-Lehigh Building (1932) at 601 W. 26th Street (home to many fashion, design, and tech companies), former Port of New York Authority Building at 111 Eighth Avenue (home to Google's New York office), and London Terrace (on land once owned by Clement Clarke Moore, this massive complex from the early 1930s established a new benchmark in massive apartment living).

22. Wander Chelsea at dusk, especially the historic district blocks. W. 21st. is beautiful and mysterious in the early evening.

Chelsea at dusk
Walk Chelsea at dusk. 

23. See a movie at Clearview Chelsea Cinemas, 260 W. 23rd St. The multiplex served as one of the venues for this past Tribeca Film Festival.

24. Laugh all night at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theatre, 307 W. 26th Street. Improv theater group founded by Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh came to New York in 1996. Many shows nightly at affordable prices keep a steady line out the door. http://www.ucbtheatre.com/

25. Discover the next fashion genius at the Fashion Institute of Technology, 7th Ave W 27th St. At the edge of Chelsea, hugging the Fashion District, FIT is part of the SUNY system. The Museum at FIT presents a fascinating series of exhibitions on design and fashion. http://fitnyc.edu/3662.asp

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Images by Walking Off the Big Apple. All rights reserved.


Anton Deque said...

I particularly like the eye you use to follow certain themes in your posts Teri; moving easily from culture to the practical, the historic to the recent past and on to today without feeling any sense as you do this of having to make concessions. It's all there you seem to say, just look. The essence of the city.

The 'demise' of the Chelsea Hotel made B.B.C. 2 television's Newsnight last night Teri, played out to Leonard Cohen. I was in another room at the time so can't say what visuals they may have used. Sad, as you say. Piece of history.

Teri Tynes said...

Hi Anton. I'm much appreciative of your comments. Also, thanks for letting readers know that the closing of the Chelsea made news across the pond.

Terry B, Blue Kitchen said...

Another great post, Teri! I have a hard time warming to Chelsea, for some reason. I do go there for galleries, though (it being the art center of the universe), so I immediately bookmarked the One Art World site. Thanks! And also thanks for this reason for me to take another look at this neighborhood.