Subtitled The Life and Times of New York’s Legendry Hotel Chelsea, this revelatory recap on a counter-culture icon should cement its position in urbanist history. Rooted in socialist utopianism of the mid-nineteenth century, the Chelsea Home Club (as it was initially known and intended) has twisted and morphed to survive through a century and a quarter of changes in its physical, political and spiritual context. As Tippins makes clear, though the physical plant has some novel and benevolent characteristics (its roof-top garden being among the most interesting), that survival is primarily the result of individuals; the many idiosyncratic and committed artists involved, from architect Philip Hubert – a self-defining non-conformist from an ‘artistic’ family – and his initial cadre of well-healed demi-monde, all the way through the fin de siecle , Roaring Twenties, depression, McCarthyism, Beats and Summer of Love to the tawdry decline of the Punk era. Only now, in the twenty-teens, does it appear to have been taken over by the Mammon of real estate interests, which hope to re-open it in 2018 as – one fears – a high-tier simulacrum of artsy prestige. One hopeful note is that the present speculative owners have been required to continue to accommodate a couple of dozen long term residents, even as they modernize and apostatize it to their own ends.
This is urban life in all its richness, chaos and fertility. No where else would one find Mark Twain, Boss Tweed, O.Henry, Thomas Wolfe, Edgar Lee Masters, Dylan Thomas, Jack Kerouac, Brendan Behan, Arthur Miller, Arthur C. Clarke, Christo, Warhol, Kubric, Dylan, Ginsberg, Lennon Joplin, Hendrix, Viscious, Rotten – indeed any such assemblage of single-named notoriety – cohabiting with the nineteenth-century-sounding artist Alphaeus Cole, whose photo in his studio at the ripe old age of 108 concludes the volume’s illustrations.
Entertaining, enlightening and inspiring, this is a gem. Long live the Chelsea!
(For those with a continuing interest, the accumulation of Chelsea-iana continues at http://www.chelseahotelblog.com/ )