Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea Hotelby Sherill Tippins
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/b>
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.
“Cool hunters will appreciate Sherill Tippins’s Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York’s Legendary Chelsea Hotel, a social history of the city’s sanctuary for postwar artists and It girls.”
"Inside the Dream Palace opens door on a vivid Chelsea Hotel……[an] engaging, readable history"
—The Los Angeles Times
"An impossible order for any writer: Get the Chelsea’s romance down on paper and try to keep up with Patti Smith and Joni Mitchell and Arthur Miller. But Sherill Tippins’s history does a vivid job of taking you up into those seedy, splendid hallways, now gone forever."
—New York Magazine
"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
“An amazing history of not only the Chelsea Hotel but New York City itself. Thank you, Sherill Tippins, for this exciting story of how a building became a community and went on to be a legend. Inside the Dream Palace reads like the best fiction and never ever slows down from beginning to end.”
—Country Joe McDonald, activist and lead singer of Country Joe and the Fish
“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.”
“A revealing biography of the fabled Manhattan hotel, in which generations of artists and writers found a haven...A zesty, energetic history, not only of a building, but of more than a century of American culture.”
“A fascinating account of how a single building in New York City nurtured a community of freaks, dreamers, and outcasts whose rejection of the status quo helped to transform it.”
“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: A Memoir
“New York, the greatest city in the world, has been a magnet for bohemians since it was founded, and the Chelsea Hotel has been Bohemia's home address for more than a century. Sherill Tippins captures the mad magic of this storied building. She has written a history, not just of a hotel, but of a dream: the dream that art can change the world. Her serene and nonjudgmental eye gives coherence and shape to a story that resists any conventional frame. The Chelsea has had its high points and low, supreme artistic achievements and drug-addled suicides, sometimes in the same room. Tippins is an indispensable urban historian; her book is a guide to the lofty aspirations and crashing disappointments of America's artistic avant-garde over the last century and a half. An unforgettable read.”
—Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director, New York Public Theater
“The Chelsea Hotel is so much more than the place where Sid Vicious may or may not have killed his girlfriend; it was a social experiment turned incubator for creativity. It was home for the artists and weirdos that made this city so interesting—famous, infamous, and everything in between. Sherill Tippins has done a masterful job of condensing a history that could be volumes long, into a book that’s enthralling, enlightening and understandably wistful.”
—Judy McGuire, author of The Official Book of Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll Lists
Tippins (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) examines another fabled New York building. Intended by architect Philip Hubert in 1884 as a utopian communal living space, the Chelsea quickly filled with residents both rich and poor. The dramatis personae of inhabitants features scores of notables, including Virgil Thomson, Dylan Thomas, and Arthur Miller. They found the bohemian chic of an "artistic collective" to be irresistible. But as the hotel's fame grew, there were ominous signs of change. The arrival of performers such as Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, and Sid Vicious and their fans saw a steady increase in drug use, crime, and even suspicious deaths, causing many of the longtime residents to flee. The author successfully charts the fascinating lineage of the once-celebrated hotel, still standing today, though a shadow of its former self, now facing yet another real estate developer with plans to transform it. VERDICT This is an exuberant tale of pop history about a New York landmark. While Tippins may be faulted for providing perhaps too much historical context, her spirited writing effectively illustrates the Chelsea as the unforgettable place it was. Recommended to pop culture enthusiasts, architecture specialists, and fans of celebrityhood.—Richard Drezen, Jersey City
A revealing biography of the fabled Manhattan hotel, in which generations of artists and writers found a haven. Turn-of-the century New York did not lack either hotels or apartment buildings, writes Tippins (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, 2005). But the Chelsea Hotel, from its very inception, was different. Architect Philip Hubert intended the elegantly designed Chelsea Association Building to reflect the utopian ideals of Charles Fourier, offering every amenity conducive to cooperative living: public spaces and gardens, a dining room, artists' studios, and 80 apartments suitable for an economically diverse population of single workers, young couples, small families and wealthy residents who otherwise might choose to live in a private brownstone. Hubert especially wanted to attract creative types and made sure the building's walls were extra thick so that each apartment was quiet enough for concentration. William Dean Howells, Edgar Lee Masters and artist John Sloan were early residents. Their friends (Mark Twain, for one) greeted one another in eight-foot-wide hallways intended for conversations. In its early years, the Chelsea quickly became legendary. By the 1930s, though, financial straits resulted in a "down-at-heel, bohemian atmosphere." Later, with hard-drinking residents like Dylan Thomas and Brendan Behan, the ambience could be raucous. Arthur Miller scorned his free-wheeling, drug-taking, boozy neighbors, admitting, though, that the "great advantage" to living there "was that no one gave a damn what anyone else chose to do sexually." No one passed judgment on creativity, either. But the art was not what made the Chelsea famous; its residents did. Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Robert Mapplethorpe, Phil Ochs and Sid Vicious are only a few of the figures populating this entertaining book. A zesty, energetic history, not only of a building, but of more than a century of American culture.
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Read an Excerpt
For a young woman from a small Texas town — a lifelong outsider
who had drifted since she was eighteen from one bohemian
scene to another — life at the legendary Chelsea was a thrilling experience.
Through some fluke, Janis had been assigned one of the smaller rooms
initially, but once she’d had a chance to wander the corridors and
step out onto a balcony overlooking the snow-covered city, she realized
that this was where she belonged — street noise, clanking heating
pipes, and stained carpet notwithstanding. During those first
weeks, she would write to her sister of the aura of history and magic
that resonated through the halls of this "very famous literary type
intellectual hotel," whose current population of hippies and musicians,
artists and writers, superstars and regular working folks had
grown so large that it had begun to spill over into the twelve-story
Carteret building next door.
Stanley Bard also felt that Janis had found a home here. Looking
beyond her secondhand clothes and uncombed hair, he perceived
a powerful life spirit — a hard-working young woman with "good
energy and focus." He said later that he regretted that she hadn’t
become a teacher, something she told him she’d once planned to be.
He worried even then that this goodhearted Texas girl who’d strung
the beads her ex-boyfriend Country Joe McDonald had worn for his
performance at Monterey Pop — on the same day she herself had
stunned the audience with her no-holds-barred rendition of "Love
Is Like a Ball ’n’ Chain" — wasn’t prepared to handle the cutthroat
Warhol crowd at the trendy new Max’s Kansas City, even if "Janis,"
McDonald’s tribute to her, was playing on the jukebox for all the
hangers-on to hear.
To some extent, he was right. On February 17, 1968, Joplin had
earned ecstatic reviews with her gut-wrenching rendition of "Piece
of My Heart" at the Anderson, and the concert was followed by a
blast of publicity that promised a triumphant East Coast launch.
But as recording sessions began for Big Brother and the Holding
Company’s first Columbia Records album, later to be named Cheap
Thrills, the first week of March, the band learned that a quartermillion-
dollar contract from a major record label didn’t come without
some strings attached. To play its best, Big Brother had always
depended on its visceral connection with the audience. Now, there
was no audience, and their producer, John Simon, was appalled by
how poorly the musicians performed. Simon, with his perfect pitch,
actually had to leave the studio when the band performed off-key
or off the beat. Discussions about dumping Big Brother and getting
Janis a professional backup band began at Columbia and in Grossman’s
The musicians, shocked by the criticism, began to turn their resentment
against Joplin. The press attention she had received since
their arrival in New York, including a photograph in the New York
Times from which every band member but Janis had been cropped,
convinced them that she was on a star trip and intended to leave
them behind. This feeling of insecurity poisoned the air at the recording
sessions and put Janis herself into a foul mood. At the Chelsea,
she spent less time with the band and more time on her own,
roaming the halls at three in the morning, feeling lonely and isolated,
looking for some company and a drink.
Someone else was keeping the same hours at the Chelsea that
winter. Leonard Cohen had been through his own tribulations with
Columbia over the previous year. By April 1967, after further coverage
of his songs by Judy Collins and Buffy Sainte-Marie, Cohen had
done a few public singing performances and had even been offered
a college tour in the fall. Months before, Columbia’s John Hammond,
famed discoverer of Bob Dylan as well as Count Basie and
Aretha Franklin, had dropped in at the Chelsea to hear Cohen play
"Suzanne," "The Stranger Song," and other tunes. "You’ve got it," he
had announced before leaving, but it was not until the end of April
that he was able to persuade the record company to take a chance
on a poet-singer Cohen’s age.
Through the summer and fall of 1967, Cohen worked laboriously
to lay down the songs for his first album, first with the legendary
producer Bob Johnston, then with Hammond. It was a painful
process; the chance to take time out to perform "Suzanne" at the
Newport Folk Festival felt like being "released from jail."
In Newport, Cohen met a fellow Canadian singer-songwriter,
twenty-four-year-old Joni Mitchell, and when the festival was over,
he took her back with him to the Chelsea Hotel. For a few months,
they became an official item. Joni demanded a reading list from her
poet-lover, and Leonard recommended Camus, García Lorca, and
the I Ching. One day a limousine pulled up next to them, and Jimi
Hendrix, in the limo’s back seat, started talking to Joni; Cohen was
pleased that Joni didn’t jump into the limousine and run off with
the charismatic guitarist, as Nico had once done in a similar situation.
But in the end, Cohen’s relationship with Mitchell developed
into something more collegial than passionate. He quipped at one
point that living with Joni was like "living with Beethoven." She was
clearly on her own upward trajectory, and though they would remain
friends beyond their summer romance, she couldn’t resist dismissing
him now and then as a "boudoir poet," less a composer than
a "word man."
In the wake of the romance, Cohen faced the hard reality of the
recording process alone. In September, Hammond dropped out, and
the project was put on hold for a month. Cohen, devastated by the
prospect of having to start all over again, shut himself in his room
for a week, smoking hash and seeing only his friends at the Chelsea.
Then John Simon, Big Brother’s future producer, was brought in to
replace Hammond, and somehow the album was completed. Songs
of Leonard Cohen, its back cover sporting the image of a Mexican
saint like those seen in his neighborhood botánica, shipped in December
of 1967. Cohen went on a brief promotional tour. Now he
was back, roaming the Hotel Chelsea’s halls again, his album having
met with only limited success and the rights to "Suzanne" and two
more of his best songs somehow lost to a music publisher along the
By this point, as Cohen would tell a concert audience years later,
he had become expert at operating the Chelsea’s notoriously stubborn
elevators. It was "one of the few technologies I really ever mastered,"
he said. "I walked in. Put my finger right on the button. No
hesitation. Great sense of mastery in those days." One cold, dismal
night, returning home from a solitary dinner at the Bronco Burger,
he realized that the woman next to him in the elevator was Janis
Joplin and that she was enjoying the ride as much as he was. He
understood at once: with all the problems they had satisfying the
demands of their record label, here was something both of them
really knew how to do. Taking a deep breath, Cohen asked, "Are you
looking for someone?" She said, "Yes, I’m looking for Kris Kristofferson."
Kris Kristofferson? "Little lady, you’re in luck," responded
the silver-tongued poet. "I am Kris Kristofferson."
Joplin’s full-throated cackle at this remark made Cohen forget
all about his record, his lost copyright, and the burger he was still
struggling to digest. In no time, Canada’s poet of pessimism found
himself in an unmade bed with rock’s new gypsy queen. The tryst
would provide sweet if fleeting memories to this pair just beginning
to perceive the price they would pay for the fame they had wished
for. Too much thought and energy would be focused on "the money
and the flesh" in the coming years. Well, that was all right, Joplin
said, as Cohen recalled years later in his song "Chelsea Hotel No. 2."
"We are ugly but we have the music."
The Fillmore East’s opening concert on March 8 was a whopping
success, with people fighting to get in to watch Joplin belt out
"Catch Me, Daddy" in a wash of psychedelic lights. By late spring,
Janis was scheduled for photo shoots with Glamour and interviews
with Life and Look. Soon, her portrait by Richard Avedon would
appear in Vogue, where Richard Goldstein would describe her as
"the most staggering leading woman in rock . . . she slinks like tar,
scowls like war . . . clutching the knees of a final stanza, begging
it not to leave." As money started to roll in, Joplin lavished it on
her friends, presiding over El Quijote dinner parties where Harry
Smith and Peggy Biderman shared a plate of paella while Ginsberg
compared notes on book royalties with Cohen and a bevy of adoring
female fans looked on. Ginsberg, like Stanley Bard, found Janis to
be "a very sensitive, beautiful person" and added her to the list of
friends at the hotel whom he was likely to fetch for a confabulation
in some room at any time of the night or day. But at El Quijote, the
Spanish waiters observed the way she slugged Southern Comfort
and loudly flirted with every man who walked by, and kept their
opinions to themselves.
Meet the Author
SHERILL TIPPINS is the author 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.
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History of great interest, including persons of attraction and accomplishments.....
Reads like a doctorate thesis. Lots of research and way to large in scope.