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15. …But Other Times They Do

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Palazzo Chupi
Photo-Ilustration by Dienststelle 75  

Julian Schnabel’s Palazzo Chupi does not look like it belongs in the West Village. It’s as if a sequins-clad tranny showed up at a small-town PTA meeting, or a bunch of aliens with a preference for Spanish-Italianate architecture crashed their mother ship smack in the middle of the quaintest part of town. Just ask the neighbors: “It’s horrible. It’s all of your worst nightmares come true,” a member of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation fumed. “It’s really a monument to this guy’s ego.”

Yeah. And? New York is full of monuments to guy’s egos: Ever hear of Rockefeller Center? Anyway, the historical society didn’t have a leg to stand on. Schnabel secured the rights to build above the building, an old stable, way back in 1987, when he’d bought it to paint in—he knew even then, apparently, that he’d be needing a seventeen-story version of Barbie’s Dream House one day. He seems a little tickled by the fuss. “I didn’t build another glass tower, you know?” he says, his improbably squeaky voice coming down the phone just a few days before the New York Post would allege that he’d been keeping a mistress in the Chupi—a floor away from the movie-star wife who is the building’s namesake. (To be fair: The ceilings of the Chupi apartments are eighteen feet high, so that’s farther away than it sounds.)

Schnabel took inspiration for the Chupi from other loves, too: Venice, Spain, his Stanford White house in Montauk, Boston’s Gardner Museum (“I went there and thought, I’d like to have one of those,” he says with a giggle). There is so much of his personality in the place that being inside it is oddly intimate. “I built it to transport myself—to my imagination,” he says. That may be part of the reason three of the five Chupi apartments are on the market: The Flip This House team would not approve of the décor. But lots of other people do: “It’s magnificent, isn’t it?” says Dennis Hopper, who is suddenly on the phone, Schnabel having passed it to him. Would Hopper be moving in? Richard Gere has put the penthouse he bought there on the market for $15 million. “Unfortunately, I’m not rich enough,” Hopper says. “If someone wants to make Easy Rider 2, maybe.”

A guy can dream, right? And that’s the thing about Schnabel’s pink palace. It may not look like New York, but it embodies the dream of New York. Schnabel is back on the line now and reminiscing: “I remember feeling this when I came back here in 1973: You walk down the street, and you think that anything is possible. People drive down the street, and they stop me, and they’re happy when they see it. They seem to feel encouraged by it. It’s a testament to the freedom of what you can do in this environment. To the infinite possibilities.”


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