Palmer House III
Life Span: 1873-1925
Location: SE corner of S State & E Monroe
Architect: John M. Van Osdel
This is technically the third Palmer House. The first Palmer House, with 225 rooms, opened on 26 September 1870. Its furnishings alone cost $100,000, or half the construction cost. A second Palmer House was under construction nearby, but both buildings were destroyed by the Fire of 1871.
Working at Night on Palmer’s Grand Hotel, By Calcium Light.
At a cost of $13 million and construction workers used calcium lighting in order to work during the night. The building was both praised and panned. It opened on November 8, 1873.
Its amenities included oversized rooms, luxurious decor, and sumptuous meals served in grand style. The floor of its barber shop was reputedly tiled with silver dollars. Constructed mainly of iron and brick, the hotel was widely advertised as, “The World’s Only Fire Proof Hotel.” Famous visitors included presidential hopefuls James Garfield, Grover Cleveland, Ulysses S. Grant, William Jennings Bryan, and William McKinley; writers Mark Twain, L. Frank Baum, and Oscar Wilde; and actresses Sarah Bernhardt and Eleonora Duse. The Palmer House has always been Democratic headquarters and the favorite of commercial travelers.
The Palmer House in 1882, looking south on State Street from Monroe Street
From the 1892 Guide Book, “Chicago by Day and Night. The Pleasure Seeker’s Guide to the Paris of America.”
The venerable Palmer House stands like a bulwark at the corner of State and Monroe Streets, its vast expanse stretching away for half a block. The Palmer enjoys a steady patronage from people who have been “putting up” there for years. It has a large clientele of the better class of commercial travelers. The wits of the town crack jokes at the expense of the Palmer on the score of the number of guests of Hebraic extraction it shelters. Be that as it may, the Palmer welcomes all who pay their bills and those who patronize it generally possess that a desirable qualification. The Palmer’s rates are $3 to $5 per day.
There is a little room on the sixth floor of the Palmer which is an environ of romantic interest, it having been the scene of one of the most famous tragedies in Chicago’s history. In the summer of 1882, it was occupied by Charles Stiles, the popular and high-living “caller” of the Board of Trade. Early one morning a veiled woman, whose tasteful but somber raiment revealed the outlines of an entrancing figure, took the elevator to the sixth floor and knocked at the door of Stiles’ room. He came out scantily clad in response to the summons. There was a flash, the ringing report of a revolver, and in another instant the young man lay dead on the floor. The woman knelt down, kissed his forehead and submitted to arrest without a murmer. She was an Italian, Teresa Sturlata by name, and the mistress of Stiles. His previous abuse of her, as testified to at the trial, so influenced the jury in her behalf that she received but the nominal punishment of one year in the penitentiary, though her great beauty doubtless had some influence on the leniency of the sentence. Many men went daft over the beautiful murderess. Some of the letters that she received while in jail were published, and precious epistles they were, too. They all contained protestations of affection, and several offers of marriage were included among them. The woman went to the penitentiary and served her sentence. When released she disappeared as completely as though the earth had swallowed her. Her present whereabouts is unknown, but the room made famous by the great tragedy is still pointed out to new guests at the Palmer.
Palmer House Chicago, 1873
American Oliograph Company
Palmer House Barber Shop, 1873
The Palmer House Barber Shop was known around the world by reason of the silver dollars set in cement in the floor. These silver dollars were so well known that when the cornerstone of the current Palmer House was laid on June 8, 1925, Potter Palmer Jr. included one of these silver dollars, then “worn to a thickness of a dime,” in the cornerstone cavity.
A Chicago Tribune article noted:
When the hotel was opened in 1873 the barbershop concession was under the management of Col. W. S. Wooden. He decorated the floor of his shop with American dollars. Three years later, in 1876 the federal government passed a law which prohibited such use of the coinage. The American dollars were then pried out and were replaced with Mexican dollars. After these coins had been worn smooth, they were replaced with a fresh collection, also Mexican. Years later (no date given) the silver dollar flooring was replaced with tile.
However, according to Coins Magazine, most of the Palmer House silver dollars were 1875 trade dollars and were pried loose by the 1920s. The Palmer family and hotel executives held the remaining nine coins, but only three had legible dates.
Although the third Palmer House Hotel had been carefully maintained and remained profitable throughout its existence, by 1919 it was clear to the Palmer Estate that Chicago could support a much larger hotel. Holabird and Roche, one of Chicago’s leading architectural firms, was commissioned by Potter Palmer’s heirs, his sons Honore and Potter Jr., to prepare plans for a new hotel building. John Wellborn Root, Jr., one of the firm’s partners, designed a brick-and-limestone-clad, steel-frame hotel that would cover much of the block bounded by State, Monroe, Wabash and Adams and have grandly- scaled interiors in the tradition of the Palmer House being replaced.
Construction of the new Palmer House Hotel took place in stages in order for hotel business to continue to be conducted in the old building. The first stage built was the eastern portion of the new building, east of the existing hotel building along Monroe and Wabash. Then, after this new section was open to business, the old hotel was razed for the construction of the rest of the new structure.
The Palmer House as the background for the 1879 visit of President Grant to Chicago
The Palmer House
Robinson’s Map 1886
Volume 1, Plate 7