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New York based author of The February House, Sherill Tippins.
Built in 1884, the Chelsea Hotel achieved rock star status amongst New York’s landmarks during the twentieth century.
If These Walls Could Speak
Just Kids by Patti Smith, New York: The Novel by Edward Rutherfurd.
The Chelsea Hotel is the main character, but it shares the spotlight with some of its famous— and infamous— tenants.
The Chelsea Hotel could only ever be played by itself (probably because it’s a building).
Would I want to live in a bohemian hub of pathos-filled, eccentric artists in a slowly collapsing Victorian monstrosity? Hell, yes.
"The forked flash of light drew my gaze upward in time to catch a split-second image of the Chelsea in all its Gothic glory silhouetted against a storm-roiled Manhattan sky. Atop its roof, full-grown trees waved their branches in the wind like women waving handkerchiefs in distress."
Inside the Dream Palace is a worthy read for anyone who loves New York, or the history of American culture. It’s doubtful that any building in the entire country has housed as many influential artists as the Chelsea, and their stories are what make the residence much more than an intriguing architectural marvel. Mark Twain, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, the Ramones; the list of notable tenants goes on and on. The walls of the Chelsea have seen it all, from Jackson Pollock vomiting profusely on the dining room carpet to the drug-fueled murder of Nancy Spungen.
Tippins proceeds with meticulous detail through each era of the hotel’s history, beginning with an unlikely start as the experiment of French socialist Philip Hubert, who wanted to form a community based on the Utopian writings of Charles Fourier. Fourier essentially believed that a perfect world could be created through the establishment of these communes he called “phalanxes,” which would be composed of as diverse an array of individuals as possible. He also happened to believe that the negative energy generated by human civilization was throwing the planets out of sync and “poisoning” the moon.
The Chelsea was originally intended as one of these phalanxes, and Hubert went to great pains to populate his state-of-the-art apartments with a variety of promising writers, young professionals, actors, and even politicians. Built shortly after the disbanding of the Tweed ring, idealists like Hubert were trying to purge the city of its past corruption.
With this rather fantastical history in mind, it’s even more fascinating to watch the gradual descent of the Chelsea from the city’s most progressive residence to one of its most notorious. There are occasions when Tippins gets somewhat wrapped up in her research, digging deeply into the backgrounds of tenants and even events that occurred on the building site before the Chelsea was officially open, but it’s difficult to be too critical of these detours when they are in themselves quite interesting. Inside the Dream Palace may be on the lengthy side, but the book’s entertaining and detail-rich anecdotes ultimately make it a satisfying and very comprehensive read.