In 1973, Melvin “Mel” Cheren (1933-2007) and Michael Brody (?- 1987) purchased what was a single-room occupancy hotel for $31,000. Cheren was an innovative record executive who is credited with inventing the 12-inch single and the purely instrumental B-side, which allowed a DJ to extend a dance song infinitely. He co-founded West End Records in 1976, which became one of the most influential music labels at the peak of disco music in the 1970s. The label produced such hits as Karen Young’s “Hot Shot,” Tanna Gardner’s “Work That Body” and “Heartbeat,” Bettye LaVette’s “Doin’ The Best That I Can,” and the NYC Peech Boy’s “Don’t Make Me Wait.” In 1977, Cheren was also one of the initial financial backers of the popular disco Paradise Garage, which was founded and owned by Brody, his former boyfriend.
Cheren, deeply affected by the AIDS crisis, offered his West 22nd Street home to the recently-formed Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), which used it as its first office between 1982 and 1984. GMHC had been established in the apartment of Larry Kramer in 1981 in response to what was then called a “gay cancer” affecting previously healthy young men in New York and California.
For two years, GMHC occupied the second and third floors, eventually taking over two-thirds of the building. While at this location, Roger McFarlane, GMHC’s first executive director, oversaw what had become a sophisticated social service agency with increasing political power, a board of directors, and 500 volunteers. Today, GMHC is the world’s leading provider of HIV and AIDS prevention, care, and advocacy with its main offices at 446 West 33rd Street.
When GMHC relocated in 1985, Cheren converted the building into the Colonial House Inn, a gay-oriented guesthouse, which is still in operation. In the late 1980s, Cheren founded 24 Hours for Life, a not-for-profit organization that raised funds from the music industry to benefit the AIDS crisis. Cheren, who lost 300 friends to the epidemic, died of pneumonia in 2007, a month after being diagnosed with AIDS.