Palimpsest is the wonderfully exotic name given to a manuscript, a scroll or parchment usually, on which the writing has been erased and overwritten but on which traces of the original remain.
Hotels are palimpsests made concrete. Beneath the modern veneer of any hotel, if you look hard enough, lies layer upon layer of history, all those stories of the guests who have moved in and moved on, their passing quickly expunged by the hotel staff.
But some of them leave traces behind, events that just can’t be erased. It helps, of course, if you are Lindsay Lohan or Johnny Depp.
Here, then, are 10 of the more infamous hotel histories to ponder the next time you check in.
1. Andaz West Hollywood, Los Angeles
The Andaz West Hollywood hotel began life in 1963 as the Gene Autry Hotel but it was in the 1970s, as the Continental Hyatt House (aka the Riot House), that it became famous for rock star excess. This is where Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham drove a motorcycle along the hallways and where Keith Richards and Keith Moon both dropped TVs out of windows (must be the name). Sadly, the modern antics of British group Blur pale in comparison; they turned the hot taps on in the bathroom in an attempt to improvise a sauna. Sad really.
Location: 8401 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles
2. Park Central Hotel, New York
The Park Central Hotel was built in the Roaring Twenties and housed such luminaries as Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Gleason, Mae West and Glenn Miller. Less happy times were had by mobster Albert Anastasia, boss of the Gambino crime family, who in 1957 was riddled with bullets while having a shave in the New York hotel’s barbershop. Another gangster, Arnold Rothstein, was shot and killed while playing cards in the hotel in 1928, just one year after it opened.
Location: 870 7th Avenue, New York City
3. Chateau Marmont, Los Angeles
Vying with the Andaz for the title of Most Outrageous Hotel History is the Chateau Marmont. But for ‘rock star’ read ‘Hollywood actors’. First established as a hotel in the 1930s the Marmont quickly gained a reputation for both excess and discretion – a powerful combination. Howard Hughes lived here, as did Rebel Without a Cause director Nicholas Ray when he was having an affair with an underage Natalie Wood. Deaths at the chateau include photographer Helmut Newton who smashed his car into a wall in the driveway, and John Belushi, who speedballed his way to oblivion.
Location: 8221 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles
4. L’Hotel, Paris
While not too much imagination went into its name, L’Hotel is where Oscar Wilde went to live beyond his means in 1900 and where he offered up his final bons mots before the year was out. Currently the smallest five-star hotel in Paris it was also the hotel de choice in the 1960s and 1970s for Salvador Dali, Princess Grace, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Serge Gainsbourg.
Location: 13 Rue des Beaux Arts, Paris
5. Cliveden House, West Berkshire
Palatial Cliveden House in Taplow, England is where, in 1961, John Profumo, Conservative Secretary of State for War, began an affair with Christine Keeler, a young ‘actress’ who was also sleeping with a suspected Russian spy. The Profumo affair eventually toppled the government. Cliveden had long been the go-to place for the upper echelons of Britain's society to be discreetly indiscreet.
Location: Taplow, West Berkshire, United Kingdom
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6. Ritz, Paris
The Coco Chanel suite at the Ritz in Paris is where, during World War II, the designer collaborated with the Nazis and had a steamy affair with a senior Nazi officer. There is still a Coco Chanel prestige suite there today.
Location: 15 Place Vendôme, Paris
7. The Mark Hotel, New York
The Mark Hotel was the scene of a little altercation between Johnny Depp and his then girlfriend Kate Moss in 1994 which ended up with Johnny in the lock-up, trying to blame the trashing of their $1200-a-night presidential suite on an armadillo whose body, to this day, has never been found. Tap on the walls next time you’re there – you never know.
Location: 25 E 77th Street, New York
8. W New York
Poor old Johnny’s got nothing on Lindsay Lohan, though, who racked up the biggest hotel monetary damage ever - $50,000 – when she took offence at her suite in the W New York hotel in Union Square during 2012. According to hotel sources they had to rip up and cart away the entire carpet.
Location: 541 Lexington Avenue, New York
9. Hotel Chelsea, New York
One for the diary: The iconic Chelsea Hotel closed in 2011, but after extensive renovations will open again as a mixture of deluxe suits, rooms and condos in 2016, 2107 or 2018 depending on your source. The who’s who of its former denizens includes Bob Dylan, Sam Shepard, Charles Bukowski, Janis Joplin, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith and Iggy Pop. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey while staying at the New York hotel, Dylan Thomas died of pneumonia here and it’s also where Sex Pistol Sid Vicious stabbed Nancy Spungen to death in 1978.
Location: 222 West 23rd Street, New York
10. Citadel Inn, Lviv
And finally, beyond all the aforementioned hotels with dark history, here’s one that just might have you changing your mind about staying there. The five-star boutique hotel Citadel Inn, in Lviv, Ukraine, used to be a Nazi death camp tower. Known locally as the Tower of Death, the building was converted to a hotel in 2009. Up to 100,000 prisoners were reported tortured and starved to death there. Sweet dreams.
Location: Hrabovs'koho Street, 11, Lviv