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

Sherill Tippins
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Winner of the Marfield Prize, National Award for Arts Writing

“Tippins tells riveting stories about the Chelsea’s artists, but she also captures a much grander, and more pressing, narrative: that of the ongoing battle between art and capitalism in the city.” — The New Yorker

Since its founding by a utopian-minded French architect in 1884, New York’s Chelsea Hotel has been a hotbed of artistic invention and inspiration. Cultural luminaries from Bob Dylan to Sid Vicious, Thomas Wolfe to Andy Warhol, Dylan Thomas to Dee Dee Ramone — all made the Chelsea the largest and longest-lived artists’ community in the world. Inside the Dream Palace tells the hotel’s story, from its earliest days as a cooperative community, through its pop art, rock-and-roll, and punk periods, to its present transformation under new ownership. By exploring what it takes to maintain a creative community and how artists have enhanced and informed New York City life, Tippins, author of the acclaimed February House, delivers a lively and masterly history of the Chelsea and those who cohabitated there.

"Not only essential to the understanding of this crucial New York City — and therefore American — cultural landmark, but as majestic and populous as the edifice itself, and completely entertaining." — Daniel Menaker, author of My Mistake

“With her lively Inside the Dream Palace, literary biographer Sherill Tippins succeeds where other historians studying New York landmarks have failed: She understands that even the most splendid buildings are mere settings for the personalities that inhabit them, and wisely bypasses rote chronology for the vigor of cultural excavation . . . The Chelsea Hotel may face an uncertain future, but Tippins’s enchanting book guarantees its renown for generations to come.” — Time Out New York

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: 20750 KB
  • Print Length: 501 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (December 3, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00AUZS66A
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #320,467 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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29 of 34 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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14 of 15 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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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dream Weavers December 19, 2013
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.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars intriguing and captivating book
Loved it. The stories kept me up at night, full of imagination and love. I never wanted this book to end
Published 3 days ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Some interesting vignettes about authors and musicians. But it ...
Some interesting vignettes about authors and musicians. But it dragged on and on, ad nauseum. I gave up 2/3 the way through the book.
Published 2 months ago by Book woman
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great detailed history of an endlessly historic place!
Published 2 months ago by Eric Tietje
2.0 out of 5 stars I wanted to like it, I really did
While I love history and was truely seeking a historical tale of the Chelsea and the stories of it's inhabitants. Read more
Published 2 months ago by WishinUK
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Mind blowing.
Published 4 months ago by trishaleen
5.0 out of 5 stars interesting
I loved all the history presented in this book of New York and the beginning years of the Chelsea Hotel. Read more
Published 4 months ago by fionaII
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but.....
I am about half way through this book. It is interesting and well researched but I feel the author speculates quite a bit about the thoughts and motivations of the people she is... Read more
Published 4 months ago by avid reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
interesting so far have not finished
Published 5 months ago by Judy Neal
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
Interesting at first but repetitive and got boring after a while.
Published 6 months ago by dr magic
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
this was a tough read
Published 7 months ago by socwrkr
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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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