< UNITED STATES | CHICAGO: The Palmer House Hilton
The nation’s oldest hotel in continual operation, the Palmer House Hilton was originally a wedding gift from business magnate Potter Palmer to his wife Bertha, a legendary socialite,
arts patron and philanthropist.
Set squarely in the middle of Potter Palmer’s State Street real estate holdings, the Palmer House first opened its doors on September 26, 1871, just thirteen days before the Great Chicago Fire. After the building burned down, Potter, determined to rebuild, constructed a second hotel across the street from the original. Designed by architect John M. Van Osdel, second Palmer House received the first guests on November 8, 1873.
The hotel was widely advertised as the world’s first fire proof hotel. The Palmer House was also the first building in Chicago to install lighting and telephone systems and later, the first hotel to retro fit guest rooms for computer modems.
Almost immediately, the Palmer House became the favored spot of the city’s cultural elite and arts community who found a willing, vivacious host in the beautiful young Bertha. Bertha was a passionate art collector, accumulating the greatest collection of impressionist art outside of France, which she later bequeathed to the Art Institute of Chicago.
Inspired by her French heritage, Bertha filled the Palmer House with artistic treasures. Fresh and accessible to guests today, striking examples include the Red Lacquer Room with garnet-draped chandeliers and the world-famous lobby topped with a magnificent ceiling of Grecian frescoes by French muralist Louis Pierre Rigal.
Other jewels include the lobby’s Tiffany 24-karat gold chandeliers and majestic “Winged Angels” – weighing in at 1.25 tons each, these two bronze statues are the largest he ever made – Tiffany brass door handles, wood hinges and hardware throughout the hotel, and Bertha’s signature French Havilland bone china.
Chicago’s liveliest social center at the turn of the century, the Palmer House has played host to a long list of important politicians, entertainers and social figures in its 135-year history, and has been the site of many historic events. In addition to nearly all U.S. Presidents, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Buffalo Bill and Prince Charles have all stayed at the Palmer House.
In 1879, the hotel was the site of one of the most fabled dinners in history, a banquet in honor of the return of General Ulysses S. Grant from a trip around the world. Among the 500 dignitaries in attendance was master of ceremonies Mark Twain, who jumped on a table at 2:00 a.m. and gave a rousing speech that brought the Dining Hall to its feet.
The third (present) Palmer House was built between 1923 and 1925 according to plans of Holabird & Roche. Since 1945, the hotel is a part of the Hilton chain.
In 1933, the Palmer House converted the golden Empire Dining Room into what would become one of the nation’s leading “supper clubs.” A showcase for the world’s biggest names in show business for the next four decades, the Empire Room was the favorite Windy City stage of entertainers including Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, and Louis Armstrong – just to name a few. It’s also where a young Liberace took his first bow on stage.
Beyond parties, performers and people, the Palmer House has had a significant influence not only on the culture, commerce and fabric of Chicago, but also on the world. Bertha was a pioneering advocate of women’s rights and social causes, and Potter was a visionary businessman. Together, they built the Palmer House into a national treasure that debuted numerous inventions and improvements.
Perhaps the best known, and certainly the most delicious “first” the Palmer House can lay claim to, is the brownie. Invented by Palmer House chefs at Bertha’s request, the brownie first debuted at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1892 after organizers asked her to create a dessert especially for the Women’s Pavilion.
In recent years the historic Chicago hotel, Palmer House has undergone a $170 million renovation to ensure that it includes all of the conveniences and comforts our 21st century guests expect while also preserving our significant history.
#Robert V. Allegrini: Chicago's Grand Hotels: The Palmer House, The Drake, and The Hilton Chicago
Arcadia Publishing, 2005 | ISBN-10: 0738539546; ISBN-13: 978-0738539546
English language | 144 pages | Paperback
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