Palmer House I
Location: Northwest corner of State and Quincy
Life Span: 1870-1871
Architect: John M. Van Osdel
This is the First Palmer House, located on the northwest corner of State and Quincy, had 225 rooms, and opened on September 26, 1870. Its furnishings alone cost $100,000, or half the construction cost. A second Palmer House was under construction at State and Monroe streets, but both buildings were destroyed by the Fire of 1871. The foundations of the second hotel were still used for the third. The first article is a description of the second hotel being constructed at State and Monroe streets. The Palmer House was one of the “Big Four” of the post-fire hotels including the Tremont House, the Grand Pacific and the Sherman House.
Wisconsin State Journal, June 2, 1869
POTTER PALMER’S NEW HOTEL.—Work was commenced on Monday by the embodiment of Chicago enterprise, Potter Palmer, on his new hotel at the corner of State and Quincy streets. It is intended to overtop everything in the city, rising to height of seven stories, and will be an exact model of the new hotel at the corner of Fifth avenue and Thirty-First street, in New York city.1 Its other dimensions will be 145×85. Cleveland stone will be used in its construction. By October the roof will (be) on, and it will be opened as the finest hotel in the West by the first of next year. It will contain 180 rooms, and will be furnished throughout in the most sumptuous manner. Its erection and occupation will revolutionize that part of the city. Several applications have already been made to lease it, but none will be entertained until about September 1st. It is rumored that the rent will be about $2,000 per month, and that it will be called the “Palmer House.”
Chicago Evening Past, June 25, 1869
The long continued rain has prevented the progress of work on Potter Palmer’s State street hotel. The excavations are completed, and some of the stone has been drawn, but the horrible condition of the ground has made it impossible to bring their heavy loads into place. As soon as fair weather begins, the structure will rapidly rise.
The Land Owner, October, 1870
THE NEW PALMER HOUSE
This magnificent structure, just completed, on the corner of State and Quincy streets, and now open for the reception of guests, is one of the most elegant and elaborate hotel edifices in the United States, as will be readily seen from the accompanying engraving. It is seven stories high, built of Cleveland stone, and presents a most attractive appearance.
Palmer House I
Internally this immense Caravansera is fitted up in a style alike luxurious and tasteful. The most superb carpets cover the drawing-rooms, and furniture of unique model meets the eye at every turn. Mr. Meserve, the proprietor, has displayed taste and judgement in his fittings throughout, and the “Palmer House” is destined to rank at once as the first hotel in the country.
The different floors are easily reached by means of a large elevator, which is to be kept constantly running, rendering the upper stories equally desirable with the lower, while the view is unequalled in the city. Most of the apartments have a southern exposure, and Lake Michigan stretches away from their windows in a blue expanse. The avenues are seen to run straight out into the open country, and the whole lookout is charming.
Every part of the hotel is in constant communication with the office by means of telegraphs and signals, which renders the spread of fire next thing to an impossibility.
In the erection of this magnificent structure, State street real estate has been enhanced in value, and its locality redeemed from the small class of buildings which formerly stood on its site. When finally thrown open and ready for guests, as it will be by the time this journal is issued, it will be the cynosure of the traveling public. Mr. Meserve, the proprietor, is a gentleman of enlarged hotel experience, and will make the “Palmer House” a hotel deserving the name.
Chicago Tribune, September 27, 1870
Opening of the Palmer House.
Not less than five thousand of our citizens, accompanied by their wives and daughters, paid a visit of inspection to the Palmer House, on State street, at the opening yesterday afternoon and evening. Had the occasion been a reception of the dignitaries of the nation, it could not have been more fashionable, and as an attendance on an opening, it was certainly worthy of the finest hotel in the West. The Palmer House is certainly the model caravanserai of Chicago, and more than equals the anticipations of our citizens, who expected something choice and elegant at the hands of the projector. Perhaps it is not the equal in accommodations of some of our larger hotels, but in its appointments it is certainly superior. It is doubtful if the parlors of any hotel on the continent are so handsomely—even gorgeously—appointed, and the general accessories are on a par with this feature. It is, of course, provided with all the modern improvements, noticeable among the which is its smoothly gliding elevator, which ascends from the basement to the topmost floor. After the general reception, the members of the press were invited by the proprietor, Mr. Meserve, to an elegant repast in the ladies’ ordinary, prepared by Charles M. Smith, the well-known cook. There is no doubt that the hotel is a grand success, and the traveling public will endorse the opinion.
Chicago Tribune, September 27, 1870
Opening of the Palmer House.—The Knabe Piano
Yesterday evening this new hotel was thrown open for inspections, and was visited by thousands who, while admiring all, found nothing more worthy of note than the spacious and elaborately furnished parlors, the chief charm of which conslated in two very fine pianos—one grand and one square—from the celebrated factory of W. Knabe & Co. They were played upon by several competent judges, who pronounced them noble instruments, especially the grand, which filled the large rooms with its powerful, yet sympathetic and sweet tones. They were obtained from J. Asner & Co., 69 Washington street, the sole agents for these pianos.
Steuben Republican, October 12, 1870
THE NEW PALMER HOUSE.—We take pleasure in calling the attention of our readers to the advertisement of this new and magnificent Hotel which is admitted by all who have seen it to be the finest in the west, if not in the States.
A good Hotel is a desideratum, and when found should be noted, and such is the Palmer, the presiding genius of which Mr. W. P. F. Meserve. The rechere appointments and splendid furniture, together with the moderate price ($3.50 per day) should commend it to all.
The guests will find all the modern improvements, the “Otis Tufts Elevator,” “Electric Bells,” Carpets wove in Lyons to fit the public and private parlors, with Bath & water closets connected with rooms. Office on first floor and no stairs to climb.
The Otis Tufts Elevator was installed in very few buildings, including the Palmer House and New York’s Fifth Avenue hotel. The screw concept was safe but expensive as well as impractical for taller buildings. The pneumatic elevator was introduced in 1873. Otis Tufts had no connection with the Otis Elevator Company, which was started by Elisha Otis in 1853, after he invented the first safety elevator.
New Orleans Republican, October 19, 1870
A New Hotel in Chicago.
The Chicagoans are rejoicing over the recent opening of their new hotel—the Palmer House—which is said to be one of the nest in the West. While the people of New Orleans are anxiously hoping for some live man to come along and open our old St. Charles, Mr. Meserve has given Chicago an entirely new first-class hotel.
The Palmer House is situated on the corner of State and Quincy streets, fronting on the former. Unlike most of hotels in the West, the office, grand exchange, telegraph, railroad ticket office, news stand, reading and sitting room, barber shop and coat room are on the street floor. Under these are the cafe, saloon, billiard room, wash room, public bath rooms, closets, etc. The elegant parlors, reception, dining and tea rooms are one flight above the office. The rooms, two hundred and fifty in number, are large and well ventilated. Those en suite are provided with bath rooms and closets, including hot and cold water. Many of the single rooms have the same accommodations.
Of course, there is an elevator to convey guests to the upper stories. Well, we will congratulate the people of the great city of the Prairie State, without being envious. We, too, hope to have a new one before spring.
The ruins of the first Palmer House.
PALMER HOUSE II
Chicago Tribune, March 20, 1871
Among these (new buildings) may be mentioned the new Potter Palmer hotel, on the corner of State and Monroe streets, and a “European tenement house” on Quincy street. The latter building is an entirely new idea to this city, and like all experiments, must stand its test of popularity. In magnitude of work, and cost it would be well to commence with the new hotel, which is to be built under the supervision of W. W. Boyington.
Palmer’s new hotel on the corner of State and Monroe streets, with an extension through to Wabash avenue. Size of fronts: State street, 105 feet; Monroe street, 104 feet; Wabash avenue, 105 feet. Uniform height of eight stories. The grand front on State street will be very imposing and rich; of highly wrought stone. The centre will be adorned with a colonnade of eight detached stone columns, each two stories in height, and on the upper story four colossal caryatides, surmounted with a rich cornice and circular pediment. At the south corner, on the State street front, will be a pavilion 34 feet in diameter, finished with columns in same style as centre. The corner of Monroe and State streets will have a full round pavilion of same dimensions as the one on State street. The circular corner will be a very noteworthy feature in the facade of the building, as it will be adorned with eight richly-executed stone columns, each two stories in height, with circular entablatures and double windows, having balconies between the windows.
The pavilion on the corner on the corner of State and Monroe streets will be in the Moorish style, though not presenting a violent contrast with any other part of the building. The east corner on Monroe street will have a pavilion similar to the south one on State street. The centre of the Monroe street front will be less ornate than the one on State street, but of the same general outline and finish. The grand entrance will be in the centre front on State street, 26 feet wide, through a rich and elaborate marble archway 24 feet in height. This entrance will lead directly to the office rotunda on the ground floor. The rotunda will be 63×166 feet, and 24 feet high. From this rotunda the grand marble stairs will lead to the hotel parlors and dining-rooms, which can also be reached by the baggage and passenger elevators, which will start from the rotunda. The Wabash avenue front will be of stone, with rich fluted pilasters similar to the Grand Hotel, Paris. The two upper stories between the pavilions and entrances, on all the fronts, will be in a Mansard roof. It is the intention to have this hotel, when finished, excel in richness and grace any building of the kind in the country. The whole structure will contain about 500 rooms, beside stores and public apartments. The work on the building will be commenced as soon as the opening of the canal will allow the stone to reach here. It is expected that the portions of the work on State and Monroe streets will be under roof before the close of the present season. Owing to the fact that the contracts have not yet been let, it is not possible to make any very close estimate as to the cost. The best-founded approximation sets the whole expense, including the making of the greater portion fire-proof, at about $1,000,000. Every possible modern appliance looking to convenience and comfort will be embodied in the plns, and the hotel will be—if Mr. Palmer and the architect can make it so—the model hotel of any continent.
Chicago Tribune, October 1, 1871 (One week before the Fire).
On State st., within half a block, on the southeast corner of Monroe, is Palmer’s Grand Hotel, the only fire-proof hotel in the country, the finishing only being of wood; it will be the largest, most substantial, and elegant hotel in the United States, and will, without doubt, be the most magnificent finished and furnished public house in the world, costing upward of $2,000,000.
Sites of Palmer House I & II
The structures indicated in yellow were wood frame.
① Northwest corner of State and Quincy, 1870
② Southeast corner of State and Monroe, 1871
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
- The people at the Palmer House thought the hotel opened in 1871 and not 1870. The confusion arose in that there was a SECOND Palmer hotel under construction at the time of the Great Fire on the corner of State and Monroe.
Chicago Tribune September 26, 1971
BY FREDRIC SOLL
Today, a Chicago symbol will put a 100th candle in its birthday cake, kicking off a week-long celebration commemorating the day Chicago pioneer Potter Palmer first opened the original version of the Palmer House.
Located today at State and Monroe Streets, the original and ill-fated-hotel was on the northwest corner of Quincy and State Streets.
Opening for the first time on Sept. 26, 1871, the Palmer Hotel, as it was then known, perished thirteen days later in the Great Chicago Fire.
Palmer Rebuilds Hotel
But undaunted, Palmer rebuilt the hotel on its present location and opened it to the public in 1873.
The second version cost $2.5 million, had 850 rooms and sported a first floor barber shop with 300 silver dollars imbedded in its floor.
Grant Came to Dinner
Today, it would take six years to sleep in each of the hotel’s rooms if a different pillow was dented each night. The Palmer House now has 2,260 rooms, enlarged by the Palmer estate in 1925 at a cost of $20 million.
U. S. Grant was President when the original Palmer House opened and was a dinner guest in its post-fire edition a few years later.
James Garfield and Grover Cleveland learned of their nominations in the hotel and William Jennings Bryan and William McKinley campaigned in its lobby.
Guests Were Moved
Mark Twain entertained dinner guests with his jokes there and Rudyard Kipling and Oscar Wilde commented in their works about the hotel’s sumptuous barber shop floor.
When the hotel was rebuilt in 1925, crews worked 24 hours a day with guests being moved to one section while workmen worked on another.
It was the first Chicago hotel to have telephone service in all its rooms, electric lights, air conditioning and elevators.
The Palmer House was sold to Conrad Hilton in 1945 for $20 million.
The centennial celebration will begin today with a recep- tion, and all week there will be historical memorabilia on display at the hotel collected from past patrons from all over the world and loaned by the Chicago Historical Society.
The Palmer House, State and Monroe Streets, will celebrate its 100th anniversary.
Chicago Tribune, November 18, 1972
The annual report of the Chicago Historical Society mentions, among other things, the centennial observance of the great Chicago fire of 1871:
- Another Chicago centennial was observed last year, and a surprising historical detail was brought to light. In response to a reference question, our library staff prepared a report on the Palmer House, which celebrated its hundredth anniversary with much fanfare last year. Our research showed that, in effect, the hotel had celebrated its centennial a year too late. A copy of the report was sent as a courtesy to the hotel’s general manager. His thank you letter was a model of restraint, promising to correct the records. Presumably the situation will be rectified—in another 99 years.
This column was one of those that hailed 1971 as the centennial of the Palmer House, a hostelry we love.
But nobody in the press has exposed the miscalculation, and it might as well be us. According to the Chicago Historical Society, the Palmer House opened in September, 1870, not 1871.
This hotel was built on the site of the 1851 balloon-frame home of John M. Van Osdel, architect of the building.1
The Palmer House was built in 1869-70, by Potter Palmer, at the northwest corner of State and Quincy streets, and although, in size and elegance, it is not to be compared with the present hotel bearing that name, it was a costly and imposing edifice.2
1 From Frank A. Randall’s “History of the Development of Building Construction in Chicago,” 1999
2 From Andreas’ “History of Chicago,” Volume 2, 1884.