In a recently published article, Sherill Tippins traces the origins of the
“…. the Chelsea’s physical and economic design resembled in many ways those of a standard phalanstery, so the social makeup of its Association echoed that recommended by Fourier for a phalanx in its infancy : a central core of cultivators and manufacturers, a smaller population of capitalists, scholars, and artists for the sake of economic survival, psychological balance, and spiritual growth ; and a Board of Directors manned by the wealthiest and most knowledgeable members of the cooperative.  At the Chelsea, located not in the country but in the midst of an urban environment then under massive construction, the “cultivators and manufacturers” were represented by real estate developers, builders, and contractors then involved in the creative process of “growing” the city -in this case including most of the people who literally built, equipped, and decorated the Chelsea itself. The “capitalists, scholars, and artists” included not only by the painters and sculptors in the fifteen top-floor studios, but by a number of musicians, actors, authors, professors, bibliophiles, financiers, and wealthy philanthropists who lived downstairs. And with a founding Board of Directors that included a well-known stockbroker, a former president of the Merchants and Traders’ Exchange, a future governor of Virginia, and the president of the company that installed the Chelsea’s innovative, patented roof, the call for a wealthy and knowledgeable leadership had been answered as well.
With an eighty-family building and a reasonably diverse population, the Chelsea stood poised to take its place, as John Noyes had recommended, “at the front of the general march of improvement.” But the question remained : how would it go about doing this ? What kind of work was to be accomplished here ?
The answer seems to lie in the Fourierist notion of art social -the importance assigned to the role of artists in unifying a diverse population and guiding it forward in its evolution. Hints of this intention lie not only in the provision of fifteen art studios occupying the Chelsea’s entire top floor, but also in the pronounced presence of nature themes in its décor-stained-glass transoms displaying images of seashells and flowers, etched-glass door panels featuring forest scenes, hand-carved wood fireplace mantels and hand-painted tiles, a lobby hung with paintings of the Hudson River school, and exquisite wrought-iron sunflowers adorning its exterior balconies and central stairway -the latter evoking a dream of the liberated American artist as vividly as Fourier’s Crown Imperial flower represented the downtrodden artist in “civilization.”
For more of Sherill's writings about the Chelsea Hotel read the "History of Activism" section of this blog.