Who knows what the future holds for the famed Hotel Chelsea (usually referred to incorrectly as the Chelsea Hotel), located in the Manhattan neighborhood it’s named after? But no matter what happens, it probably won’t ever again be home to generations of artists both established and up-and-coming, in a city where busloads of young people still arrive every day with dreams of making it big. It has become another New York landmark whose importance has become mostly symbolic, but unlike hundreds of other historic buildings mercilessly knocked down to make way for newer, uglier glass boxes, at least the 12-story brick structure is still there.
Sherill Tippins, who has made a specialty of chronicling famous bohemian haunts — she’s also 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 Brooklyn — had her work cut out for her with Inside the Dream Palace, her new history of the Chelsea. Luckily for us, Tippins proved equal to the task, shedding light on nearly every famous resident to either live there, as well as some of their famous guests. Inside the Dream Palace is a history that balances facts and figures with a feeling that you’re actually in the hotel’s rooms with some of the residents she focuses on, and ultimately delivers the best full book on the iconic residence, without coming off as too gossipy.
But this is the Hotel Chelsea we’re talking about, so of course there’s good gossip to be told. Here are some of the best tidbits.
Rent in New York is always a crazy game, but a month at the Chelsea in 1884 cost you $41-$250, which comes out to $986 to $5910 today. Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe paid $55 a week for their room in 1969, which would be $337 a week in 2013.
Jack Kerouac and Gore Vidal spent a night there together. After the two went drinking with Kerouac’s friend William S. Burroughs and the On the Road author “announced to the room that this meeting of Burroughs and Vidal was an important literary moment,” Kerouac sent his girlfriend off in a cab and Burroughs left. According to Tippins, “the two writers found their ambitions disintegrated” thanks to all the booze, and what transpired was mostly “drunken fumbling, a shared shower, and a final collapse on the low double bed.”
Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin had a little thing in the unmade bed while the limousines waited in the streets. But you probably heard all about that decades ago:
When Leonard Cohen was brought to Edie Sedgwick’s room to meet the Warhol starlet (by the invitation of Velvet Underground manager Danny Fields), he found a “bright after-image” of the famed Sedgwick in a messy room. He also noticed that Sedgwick paid no attention to the fact that her friend, Brigid Berlin, “had passed out on the floor — on top of a tube of glue, as it turned out, which glued her to the floorboards.”
Andy Warhol and his Factory friends brought the hotel into a new era, filming some of their famous avant-garde films within the building’s rooms. But one famous hotel guest wasn’t happy: Arthur Miller bemoaned Warhol’s transformation of the hotel’s mystique from “generally quiet and respectable” to “wild and unmanageable.” Bob Dylan felt similarly, recalling that “when Chelsea Girls came out, it was all over for the Chelsea Hotel.”
Leonard Cohen cohabiting with fellow Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell might be the Chelsea’s greatest celebrity romantic pairing. They met at the 1967 Newport Folk Festival. The relationship only lasted a few months, but that was enough time for Cohen to give Mitchell a reading list that included “Camus, Garcia Lorca, and the I Ching.”
Did Sid really kill Nancy? “Other people’s fingerprints had been found in the room” that the former Sex Pistol and his girlfriend lived in, and the money Vicious received as an advance for his cover of “My Way” had vanished. Tippins wonders if “Sid’s dealer, a ferocious-looking Brooklyn native who called himself Rockets Redglare” could have stabbed Spungen and took off with the cash.