The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Cool Air

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the many startling things about H.P. Lovecraft’s unhappy life in New York, during which he suffered dire poverty, was that his favorite pass time seemed to have been wandering the streets tracking down antiquarian treasures- and He spent quite a bit of his time looking for artifacts of times gone by. Many of the locations mentioned in his fiction remain extant to this day, and sometime over the next couple of months your humble narrator will be journeying to Brooklyn to find the “Horror at Red Hook”.

Today, however, we’re on West 14th street in Manhattan- where “Cool Air” is set.

from wikipedia

The building that is the story’s main setting is based on a townhouse at 317 West 14th Street where George Kirk, one of Lovecraft’s few New York friends, lived briefly in 1925. The narrator’s heart attack recalls that of another New York Lovecraft friend, Frank Belknap Long, who dropped out of New York University because of his heart condition. The narrator’s phobia about cool air is reminiscent of Lovecraft himself, who was abnormally sensitive to cold.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi has christened Kirk, Lovecraft, Long and a small group of others as “The Lovecraft Circle” and this is where they would meet up and carouse late into the night. In the 1920’s, this was a “Bachelor’s Boarding House”, and from the description of the modern establishment quoted below- it still is.

from chelseapinesinn.com

Chelsea Pines Inn is located in a five story walk-up row house that was built as a private home in the 1850s.  In the 1980s, the building was transformed into a charming gay owned and operated hotel, where everyone has always been welcome. All guest rooms and common areas are decorated with original film posters from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Unique stores, galleries, restaurants, and clubs are within walking distance, and the world’s largest mass transit system is just a few steps away, so you can get anywhere in the city quickly and economically.

Originally built as a private home back when 14th Street was the northern end of the city, our building has gone through many exciting changes over the years.  As the City grew around us it became a fashionable rooming house and was used as the setting in Cool Air, a short story about air conditioning, written well before air conditioning was invented, by the celebrated horror author H.P. Lovecraft. (Just as a note, Chelsea Pines Inn has central air.)

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The action in the story would have taken place on the third floor, where the narrator’s rooms were located. Dr. Muñoz would have been at the summit.

from H.P. Lovecraft’s “Cool Air

It is a mistake to fancy that horror is associated inextricably with darkness, silence, and solitude. I found it in the glare of mid-afternoon, in the clangour of a metropolis, and in the teeming midst of a shabby and commonplace rooming-house with a prosaic landlady and two stalwart men by my side. In the spring of 1923 I had secured some dreary and unprofitable magazine work in the city of New York; and being unable to pay any substantial rent, began drifting from one cheap boarding establishment to another in search of a room which might combine the qualities of decent cleanliness, endurable furnishings, and very reasonable price. It soon developed that I had only a choice between different evils, but after a time I came upon a house in West Fourteenth Street which disgusted me much less than the others I had sampled.

The place was a four-story mansion of brownstone, dating apparently from the late forties, and fitted with woodwork and marble whose stained and sullied splendour argued a descent from high levels of tasteful opulence. In the rooms, large and lofty, and decorated with impossible paper and ridiculously ornate stucco cornices, there lingered a depressing mustiness and hint of obscure cookery; but the floors were clean, the linen tolerably regular, and the hot water not too often cold or turned off, so that I came to regard it as at least a bearable place to hibernate till one might really live again. The landlady, a slatternly, almost bearded Spanish woman named Herrero, did not annoy me with gossip or with criticisms of the late-burning electric light in my third-floor front hall room; and my fellow-lodgers were as quiet and uncommunicative as one might desire, being mostly Spaniards a little above the coarsest and crudest grade. Only the din of street cars in the thoroughfare below proved a serious annoyance.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 26, 2011 at 12:59 am

One Response

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  1. […] The building which “Cool Air” was set in still stands on 14th street in Manhattan, and was observed in the appropriately named post “Cool Air.” […]


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