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Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea Hotel

Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea Hotel [Kindle Edition]

Sherill Tippins
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Product Description


'It's where Dylan Thomas drank himself to death, Arthur Miller hid from Marilyn Monroe and Sid killed Nancy. A new book lifts the lid on the Chelsea hotel, where scandal lurked behind every door' Mail on Sunday

'Tippins leads us on a vivid, informed and entertaining ramble through the history of New York's nonconformist and artistic classes: from political malcontents, the literary avant-garde and the countercultural upheavals of the fifties and sixties. There are six degrees of separation that connect Mark Twain to Abbie Hoffman, Arthur Miller to Andy Warhol' Mick Brown, Daily Telegraph

'Though Tippins has a hearty appetite for gossip, she underpins the life of the Chelsea with the social history of its times. The hotel's fortunes rose and fell with the economy of the city and her salty stories of hope, heroin, heartbreak and heroism revive the Chelsea's heartbeat' The Times

'An unputdownable eulogy to 23rd Street's infamous Chelsea Hotel'

'Not just a biography of a building, it amounts to an alternative history of 20th-century culture' --The Spectator

Product Description

The Chelsea Hotel, since its founding by a visionary French architect in 1884, has been an icon of American invention: a cultural dynamo and haven for the counterculture, all in one astonishing building. Sherill Tippins, author of the acclaimed February House, delivers a masterful and endlessly entertaining history of the Chelsea and of the successive generations of artists who have cohabited and created there, among them Thomas Wolfe, Dylan Thomas, Arthur Miller, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol, Sam Shepard, Sid Vicious, and Dee Dee Ramone. Now as legendary as the artists it has housed and the countless creative collaborations it has sparked, the Chelsea has always stood as a mystery as well: why and how did this hotel become the largest and longest-lived artists' community in the known world? Inside the Dream Palace is the intimate and definitive story.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 14273 KB
  • Print Length: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (30 Jan 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00GVJ761A
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #121,340 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Sherill Tippins is the author of Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea Hotel, and of February House: The Story of W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten and Gypsy Rose Lee Under One Roof in Wartime America. She lives in New York City.


Why and how did you come to write about the Chelsea Hotel?

Like many New Yorkers, I was initially thrilled, during my early years as a New York City resident (in the late '70s and early '80s), to venture through the doors of the famous artists' residence, to take a look at the art in the lobby and to attend parties upstairs. Over time, however, I ceased to think about the hotel. It was only seven or eight years ago that my curiosity about the place was piqued again. A friend's enthusiasm for the place and his recommendation that I look into its origins prompted me to do some research. Right away, a host of bizarre stories turned up -- everything from paeans to the Chelsea as a "living temple of humanity" to a report of a concert pianist's wife who cut off her hand with a pair of shears and then leaped to her death from the hotel's fifth floor. Still, I resisted what promised to be an enormous research project, until the day I was crossing West 23rd Street during a rainstorm and was stopped cold in mid-intersection by the flash of an enormous bolt of forked lightning directly above the hotel. One doesn't ignore an omen like that.

There are some fantastic anecdotes in the book about artists who inspired each other. Is there one unlikely or surprising collaboration in particular that struck you?

Perhaps one of the most surprising to me was that between the artist Arthur B. Davies and the socialites and arts patrons Lizzie Bliss and Abby Rockefeller in the 1920s. Davies led a fascinating life: married to one woman who was raising their children in upstate New York, married to another with their daughter hidden away in Europe, and romantically involved with a beautiful young singer who posed for him in his top-floor Chelsea studio. Davies, who had been the greatest force behind the seminal 1913 Armory Show, had a great passion for the modern artists. He had filled his studio with so many paintings and sculptures by Cézanne, Seurat, and Picasso that he eventually had to rent a second studio in order to house all his treasures. As a result, when Davies died unexpectedly, during a visit to his second wife in Europe, Rockefeller and Bliss were moved to commemorate his vision by together creating New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1929.

Why do you think the Chelsea attracted so many legendary residents?

The Chelsea is, above all, comfortable -- socially comfortable even when the clanking furnaces and dusty drapes make it physically challenging. Arthur Miller wrote that the attraction of the hotel was its utterly classless social structure -- celebrity actors were treated with no more or less deference than aged residents struggling with dementia -- and artists in particular have always found this richly diverse and egalitarian environment especially conducive to a pleasurable life. In practical terms, the Chelsea serves creative types because it was designed to facilitate their work, with soundproof walls three feet thick, a comfortable, un-ostentatious lobby for socializing with neighbors, a tradition of respect for privacy during work hours and conviviality at other times, and, at least until recently, a manager dedicated to protecting residents' ability to conduct their lives free of unwanted intrusion and with an understanding of the financial ups and downs of the typical artist's life.

You chronicle many different eras of the Chelsea, from the Gilded Age to the Great Depression to the post-World War II bohemian revolution to the punk-rock days. Which era is your favorite, and why?

I found its birth during the 1880s Gilded Age the most fascinating, because it was the most surprising. Researching the life of the Chelsea's creator, the French-born architect Philip Hubert, I discovered that his father had served as the architect for the utopian philosopher Charles Fourier and had in fact designed the only Fourierist community created during Fourier's lifetime. The family emigrated to the United States with a wave of fellow idealists in the wake of the 1848 revolution in France, and many of Fourier's ideas about the importance of social diversity, the need for society to adapt to individuals' needs and desires rather than the other way around, and especially the role of avant-garde artists in pointing the way toward social evolution, informed the creation of the Chelsea Association Building, one of the city's first cooperative residences and the first to mix people of different economic classes, not only in the same building but on the same floor. Hubert effectively designed the Chelsea to facilitate a creative communal life. And even after the shared dining area was removed, the cooperative was bankrupted and turned into a hotel, and the original Association and its members were long gone and forgotten, the Chelsea continued to sustain a uniquely sociable and creative atmosphere.

What are some of the most famous pieces of art that were created at, or inspired by, the Chelsea?

Bob Dylan began work on his seminal album Blonde on Blonde during his days at the Chelsea Hotel. Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls, the most successful American underground film ever made, was shot partly at the hotel, with co-owner Stanley Bard's blessing. Patti Smith wrote some of her earliest poems and songs in the lobby of the Chelsea, including her poem "Oath," whose opening lines, "Christ died for somebody's sins / But not mine" would serve as the introduction to her early, fabulous rendition of "Gloria." Leonard Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel No. 2" was, of course, inspired by his encounter with Janis Joplin at the Chelsea one lonely winter's night. Shirley Clarke's groundbreaking film "Portrait of Jason" was shot in her pyramid-shaped apartment on the Chelsea's roof. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey for Stanley Kubrick at the hotel. Arthur Miller rehearsed After the Fall, his play about his failed marriage to Marilyn Monroe, in his Chelsea suite. The French artist Yves Klein was so outraged by Americans' lack of understanding of his work that he fired off a "Chelsea Hotel Manifesto" while staying at the hotel. The artist Christo created his first American storefronts in his room at the Chelsea, incorporating in one of them the brass doorknob from his bathroom door. Downtown performance artist Penny Arcade staged her play A Quiet Night for Sid and Nancy at the Chelsea Hotel in one of the rooms at the Chelsea. Numerous books of photography, and a BBC documentary, have documented the life there. The list goes on and on.

Is the Chelsea is haunted? What are some of the best ghost stories you discovered in your research?

There's a widespread rumor among those who believe in such things that the Chelsea is the second-most-haunted building in all of New York City, trailing only the New York Public Library in spiritual infestation. Certainly dozens upon dozens of visitors have reported "sightings" at the Chelsea. Many of the long-term tenants refer to the spirits almost like family members. Stories abound about the "Grey Man" lurking at the top of the stairs, about Larry, a 1960s spirit who offers advice on the meaning of life at the Chelsea Hotel, and about Mary, the widow of a drowned Titanic passenger, who continues to weep and tear at her hair at the Chelsea for all eternity.

What is the state of the Chelsea now?

In 2011, the Chelsea was sold by its longtime consortium of owners to the real estate mogul Joseph Chetrit. Chetrit shut down the hotel, and proceeded to empty it of its long-term residents to the extent legally possible in order to reinvent the Chelsea as a boutique hotel. Renovations have lagged, however, as legal disputes between landlord and tenants have languished in the courts, and plans for alterations, such as adding a rooftop bar, have met with challenges by people in the neighborhood. The hotel remains closed; most of the unoccupied rooms have been gutted, with many subdivided spaces returned to their former larger size; an additional elevator line is being added; and the roof gardens have been torn down and the surface of the roof razed. Recently it was announced that Ed Scheetz, a minor partner in Chetrit's Chelsea Hotel syndicate, had bought the hotel, intending to proceed with the renovations in a manner more respectful of both the hotel's history and the tenants' rights.

What do you think the new ownership means for the Chelsea?

My hope is that the new owner will understand, as clearly as did Stanley Bard, the value of the hotel's artistic tradition -- in both cultural and monetary terms. It should not be necessary to turn the Chelsea into a Hard Rock Café-style theme hotel, or a boutique residence only for the rich, in order to turn a profit, as the Chelsea has always attracted more than enough guests who appreciate it for what it is -- a veritable factory for the arts. Ed Scheetz, whose passion for the Chelsea is clearly sincere, has said that he would like to create a kind of urban MacDowell Colony by donating a half dozen or so rooms to visiting artists; turn one of the original residents' dining rooms into a performance space where residents and guests can give readings and display artwork; and perhaps even install a recording studio in the hotel for musicians' use. If Scheetz succeeds in carrying out these plans while respecting the integrity of the Chelsea's design (that is, keeping the public areas downstairs and the private spaces above), it's possible that the hotel could continue to reward both its owners and its city even more in the coming generations than it has in the past.

What do you hope readers take away from your book?

I hope readers will gain a greater appreciation for the role of the Chelsea Hotel as a major cultural force in America for the past 130 years. I hope, too, though, that through the lens of the Chelsea's development they will understand how the American arts tradition grew and expanded throughout those decades. Just as the Chelsea's interior climate has always reflected -- and affected -- the larger environment outside its doors, so its story serves as a microcosm for the past and future of our culture as a whole. For this reason, I believe the story of the Chelsea serves as a kind of parable, useful for granting new insight into society today.

Customer Reviews

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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Inside the Dream Palace 15 Feb 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
It would be hard to imagine another hotel that has the reputation of the Chelsea in New York – a place known for giving shelter to those on the fringes of society; the artistic, the talented, the damaged and the tragic. Now suffering one of many temporary setbacks, being closed for over two years, the Chelsea was conceived in the 1880’s as a place where residents could come together in a new and creative way. This utopian society was to include writers, artists and musicians; a reminder of artistic life outside the commercialism of the city.

This book is full of endless stories about the famous, and the infamous. Yet, there is always a dark undercurrent in the corridors of a hotel which has seen more than its fair share of tragedies. In 1922, the young wife of a concert pianist severed her left hand before leaping to her death, leaving the hand for her young daughter to discover. Such personal disasters seem to stalk the pages of this fascinating book, which is not only the biography of a building, but of many of the people who stayed there – as well as following the city of New York from the conception of the hotel to the present. We are taken through the stock market crash and depression, through the war years and see the Chelsea fall into a sort of down at heel chaos.

As for names, well, there are plenty, from Peggy Guggenheim, Marc Chagall, Jackson Pollock, John Cage, Arthur Miller, Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, Brendan Behan, Arthur C Clarke, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Andy Warhol, Janis Joplin, Jerry Rubin, Patti Smith and through to the punk era and Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. In a way, it seems as if so many of these people – creative, talented artists, came to the Chelsea Hotel merely to self destruct.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent 15 Feb 2014
By terry
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is one of the most interesting and informative books I have read for a long time - I would recommend this to anyone.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 1 Dec 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Great book arrived super fast
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  66 reviews
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rich in the telling 30 Oct 2013
By Eddie Wannabee - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Curious to no end regarding the famous, or infamous, depending on the period of time of the many occurrences that took place at the Chelsea Hotel throughout, I looked forward to this book: Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea Hotel, by a very good writer named Sherill Tippins. To begin with: her command of the language, the number of words I was forced to look at twice, her vast knowledge on the subject, and of course the flow of countless of individuals, characters that lived under such a massive structure, making the place a true unique habitat, make for a serious intriguing read. For some bizarre reason I compared it briefly to the Overlook Hotel from the movie The Shinning, but the Chelsea Hotel, as opposed to the scary empty one in the movie, had so many people of caliber inside its walls, it has created its very own ghost stories today.
I will not attempt to even bring forth a few of the names that sought residence at the Chelsea, but sufficient is to say that there are more than enough to make for a very and varied compelling read. Perhaps that would be my only criticism of this juicy book, too many characters interloping, not one lasting more than a few pages, as the book moves along from the inception of this hotel, once believed to be the very best of New York living almost to the present days.
The abundance of characters, and the passage of time, makes this book one rich experience, so many anecdotes, glimpses at a society that definitely exalted the arts in general, for there were all kinds of talented people roaming the halls, day or night, I am sure. Is like a slide show with narrative of the glorious, and then not so glorious days of such a legendary building.
I found the book more like a train leaving the very first stop, into a never ending road of characters and situations, more entering as others left, and some of the stories truly memorable, especially from the strong poetic population, but not to disregard those of the musicians, captains of industry, directors, writers, etc.
When you have a combination of a great writer, and an extensive subject matter that happens to be all true, you just catch a ride that is truly enjoyable and haunting at the same time. What a unique place, the Chelsea Hotel! Really thanking Amazon for allowing me to read this enthralling book, making me wonder how much would I have given to sublet for a couple of months, or perhaps even more, it don't matter if it was one of the smaller rooms, those that were brought to existence when the hotel was renovated, to increase the number of possible rooms, from the once opulent rooms it was originally known for. 4.5 Stars!
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For lovers of culture, New York, weird and wild people and lifestyle 21 Nov 2013
By rgregg - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I had not finished the first chapter of Sherill Tippins' Inside the
Dream Palace before I realized the real estate I have always wanted
was being described. I would have liked one of the beautiful,
original eighty apartments along with the free thinking, artistic
neighbors in the Chelsea Association which later became the Chelsea
Hotel. .

The Chelsea was inspired in part by Charles Fourier, a French utopian
writer. The idea was to design an urban environment that would
attract artists, intellectuals and progressives who would work in a
setting that could inspire creativity and tolerance. The original
apartments were designed both for those with wealth and also those
with more limited means. The experiment worked.

Inside the Dream Palace describes the community that flowered within
the walls of the Chelsea for over a hundred years. The lives of
musicians, writers, artists and actors are chronicled, framed by the
New York City in which they lived. Thomas Wolfe, Mark Twain, Bob
Dylan, Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, Gore Vidal, Edie Sedgwick,
Sid Vicious and Arthur Miller, along with many others, make
appearances. The influence of the artists on each other both
creative and destructive makes an interesting read. Through the
years they offered each other inspiration and support as well as
possibly a bit too much sex, alcohol and drugs. Their concerns over
income inequality, recessions/depressions and unpopular wars and
foreign involvements unfortunately sounded very current. Tourists,
drug dealers, prostitutes, murderers, along with the eccentric and
those just attracted to the action, all fill out the story. It is a
fascinating, unusual history with the Chelsea as the main character.

This book will appeal to anyone interested in the creative life, urban
planning, sociology, architecture, history and New York City. The
next time I am in town I plan to find the Chelsea, stand at the front
door, and have my picture taken.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing history of the most fascinating building in America 7 Dec 2013
By Pyotr Rusakova - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Sherill Tippins has done the world a great favor with this important book about what I would call America's most interesting building. The Chelsea Hotel has surely housed more talented, innovative and fascinating people than any other residence on earth. I read Ed Hamilton's wonderful book "Legends of the Chelsea Hotel" a few years ago and came to appreciate the incredible quirkiness of the Chelsea, but Tippins' new book expands on Hamilton's entertaining book to give us a fuller view of the historical importance of the Chelsea.

Tippins' research is obviously exhaustive and her integrity as a writer is at the top of the heap. I'm a librarian and I can't recall the last time I have been this impressed with the scholarly research that went into creating this work. There are many tall tales about the Chelsea that are not completely true, and Tippins does not include any of the unproven tales. She sticks to the facts. If you see it here, it is so.

As big as this book is, I can't help but hope for a second volume. There are so many interesting tales to tell about the Chelsea that I bet Tippins could fill up another huge book or two. I selfishly hope she will go for Volume 2 of "Inside the Dream Palace" one day!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dream Weavers 19 Dec 2013
By Melanie Gilbert - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
People who share a common vision or destiny are strengthened by forming communities in which their work and beliefs are supported and sustained. Many of these movements are religiously based such as the Amish, Mennonites, or Hare Krishnas. Secular movements that adopt a community-based lifestyle are harder to maintain on a broad scale because competing interests - like sex, money, and power - make coalescing around a common core more complicated.

The Chelsea Hotel was a unique and beautiful exception to this rule. Despite vast differences in race and gender, age and income, education and experience, money and power, the Chelsea Hotel community was bound by one thing: talent. Even the talent was expressed in widely divergent ways. Yet, for almost 100 years, this diverse energy found a place to call home at the Dream Palace.

Sherill Tippins's opus pays homage to the idea that ideas can form powerful and perpetuating communities of believers. Emerson or Thoreau would have called the Chelsea Hotel home. Remarkably, Tippins also shows how outside influences and competing interests strengthened the intimate bonds between the Chelsea believers while propelling their creative work beyond its walls.

The Chelsea Hotel was both a cultural and artistic incubator. Writers, musicians, graphic artists, filmmakers, actors and avant garde adventurists mixed in amongst regular people in the heart of New York City. Religious-type fervor within a secular, and sometimes sinful environment, somehow produced enduring art. The Chelsea Hotel was both wicked and wonderful - and so is this book. Highly recommend it.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thorough and Worth the Read 11 Dec 2013
By Kevin Fontenot - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
“Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York’s Legendary Chelsea Hotel” is a thorough, engrossing history of one of New York City’s most iconic hotels. Combining a single building’s architectural history with a social history of its inhabitants is no easy feat, and this book manages to do it extremely well. The characters who inhabited the hotel come to life within its pages, and the building itself remains central to the story. From nineteenth century society to early twentieth century literary figures, the Beat Generation, to the Warhol “superstars” to the shocking murder of Nancy Spungen and beyond, a great deal of historical context is provided for the hotel’s place in American society – which illustrates its importance all the more. The book has extensive notes and detailed illustrations which provide eeven more depth.

Sherill Tippins should also be commended for delving deeper into the earlier history of the building and its curious patrons, rather than spotlighting the more recent, lurid history. Through this book, she shows us that the Chelsea Hotel is a valuable component of New York history. The Chelsea is a beautiful building with a long, storied past, a strong presence today (even as its doors are closed), and, with the anticipated success of this important historical account, a hopeful future.
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