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

Sherill Tippins
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The next best thing to having a room key to the Chelsea Hotel during each of its famous—and infamous—decades

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 John Sloan, Edgar Lee Masters, 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.

Today the Chelsea stands poised in limbo between two futures: Will this symbol of New York's artistic invention be converted to a profit-driven business catering to the top one percent? Or will the Chelsea be given a rebirth through painstaking effort by the community that loves it? Set against these two competing possibilities, Inside the Dream Palace could not be more fascinating or timely.

Editorial Reviews Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, December 2013: By the mid-nineteenth century, New York City was broke and divided, its coffers emptied by corrupt politicians and a vast chasm separating rich from the vast masses of the poor. Architect Philip Gengembre Hubert dreamed of reclaiming the city from the opportunists, reuniting its citizens within egalitarian communities of art and commerce, mingling all economic classes and vocations. And when his signature achievement, the Hotel Chelsea, opened in 1844, it immediately became a beacon for artists and inspiration, the spirits of creativity and collaboration literally blueprinted into its Victorian bricks and gables. With Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea Hotel, Sherill Tippins has written the definitive biography of the New York landmark. Tippins's Chelsea lives and breathes along with the mind-blowing roster of (often infamous) geniuses and eccentrics who haunt its chambers. Dylan Thomas died at the Chelsea, and Bob Dylan wrote Blonde on Blonde there. Warhol's Superstars dined in its halls, and Dee Dee Ramone detoxed in its junk-friendly confines. True to Hubert's vision, artists worked and trysted (and recombined) in wild pairings: Sam Shepard and Patti Smith; Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe; Jack Kerouac and Gore Vidal; Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin; Dylan and Edie Sedgwick; Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick; and, of course, Sid and Nancy. Inside the Dream Palace stands as a fitting monument to the hotel, its misfit denizens, and the art that it nurtured and inspired. --Jon Foro

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Tippins continues her exploration of New York’s creative synergy, begun in February House (2005), in this astute, star-studded chronicle of Manhattan’s fabled Chelsea Hotel. Idealistic French architect Philip Hubert established the city’s first home club associations, or cooperatives, and designed the Chelsea Association Building on Twenty-Third Street specifically to attract artists, musicians, and writers. The “mammoth red-brick edifice” did just that from its 1884 opening to its 2005 closing for renovations. Tippins charts the ups and downs of the Chelsea in sync with the booms and busts of the city as the hotel’s rooms were subdivided, and its creative endeavors descended from poetry readings to porno films. Tippins tells riveting stories about such Chelsea residents as writers Edgar Lee Masters, Dylan Thomas, Arthur Miller, Allen Ginsberg, Sam Shepard, and Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey there. Jackson Pollock puked on the dining-room carpet. Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin met in an elevator. Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey filmed Chelsea Girls. Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe flowered. Zealous, big-picture researcher Tippins not only tells compelling tales, she also weaves them into a strikingly fresh, lucid, and socially anchored history of New York’s world-altering art movements. Though its future is uncertain, Tippins ensures that the Chelsea Hotel, dream palace and microcosm, will live on in our collective memory. --Donna Seaman

Product Details

  • File Size: 27381 KB
  • Print Length: 501 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (December 3, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00AUZS66A
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,309 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rich in the telling October 30, 2013
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.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
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.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
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!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Mix of Architectural and Social History November 3, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Sherill Tippins' book 'Inside the Dream Palace' offers a manifesto for saving Manhattan's 'legendary' Chelsea Hotel, long a place associated with writers, artists and entertainers. The book opens with a well-researched and well-thought through tour of late 19th Century 'social improvement' theory relating to Utopian communities, specifically ideas associated with the Frenchman, Charles Fourier. Another French émigré to America, Philip Hubert, and some partners designed and built the Chelsea Hotel to serve as a residence for a cross section of working New Yorkers, who would form their own sub-community within the city. Things began with high ideals and progressed into practical completion and the residential hotel attracted longer and shorter-term tenants including Edgar Lee Masters, William Dean Howells, the American Impressionist painter, Childe Hassam and the artist John Francis Murphy. Even in the 19th Century, the place had its 'Bohemian' moments with sexual escapades of various sorts not uncommon. Literary icons, O.Henry and Thomas Wolfe stayed and worked at the hotel. The project did work as a cultural center but it eventually became overburdened by lenient policies regarding rent collections for culture workers who were short of funds. Examples of that sort are clearly presented here.

Eventually, new investors resuscitated the Chelsea and it enjoyed renewed prominence in New York's cultural history by serving as residence or work locations for Brion Gysin and William Burrows ('the Dream Machine'), Andy Warhol's film 'Chelsea Girls', a Janis Joplin photo shoot, singer/songwriters Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, Sam Shepard and Patti Smith, Warhol diva, 'Viva' and Nancy Spungen and Sid Vicious from the punk music scene of the Seventies.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars So so
Just ok. People just want to read the gossip.
Published 6 days ago by Sarah Lou
2.0 out of 5 stars Major Disappointment
A dull read. Not enough information on the 70s onward.
Published 23 days ago by Darlene
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
A fascinating account of this legendary venue. I could not believe the intersection of well known artists for such an extended period of time.
Published 27 days ago by Craig E. Wood
2.0 out of 5 stars disappointing.
too much architectecture for me. sort of expected more on the people who spent time there.
i have to admit only reading less than 100 pages, then donated it to the local... Read more
Published 1 month ago by mountain mary
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful! I really enjoyed knowing more about the history ...
Wonderful! I really enjoyed knowing more about the history of the Chelsea.
Published 1 month ago by Judith Muller
4.0 out of 5 stars I eagerly read this book though I was inwardly disappointed that I had...
As a transplanted, native New Yorker, I eagerly read this book though I was inwardly disappointed that I had never even seen this hotel, much less roamed around inside. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Avid San Francisco Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful
Tippins places the story of the Chelsea within the larger historic context. This is a thoughtful work that traces the arts from Mark Twain to Sid and Nancy set against the... Read more
Published 3 months ago by SMac
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely fascinating
An inside look at the Chelsea Hotel plus some great historical background about New York City. If you're looking for a 'People' rag gossip fest about the rich and famous who lived... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Leilag
4.0 out of 5 stars A welcome addition to the "canon."
I didn't think a another book on the Chelsea Hotel could be of interest, but I was wrong. The stories are very good, and a thoughtful analysis of the culture and time is welcomed. Read more
Published 4 months ago by John A. Gregorio
5.0 out of 5 stars All the info you need to understand the Chelsea Hotel
This is a fine cultural and social history of one of the great treasures of New York City. The research is superb, and the writing is engaging and informative.
Published 5 months ago by Harry
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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.

You can learn more about Sherill at, and you can follow the story of the Chelsea Hotel at


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.

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