Palmer House II & III
Life Span: 1871, 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, located on the northwest corner of State and Quincy, had 225 rooms, and opened on 26 September 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, which is basically the same as the rebuilt Palmer House. 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.
PALMER’S GRAND HOTEL (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.
PALMER HOUSE III
REBUILT CHICAGO—PALMER’S GRAND HOTEL.
We present herewith a superb illustration of Palmer’s Grand Hotel, now in course of construction now in course of erection at the southeast corner of State and Madison streets in this city.
This magnificent structure was well under way before the fire; its foundations being all laid, all plans drawn and perfected, and its stone and iron material prepared and in transit. The fire did not injure the foundations at all, and the material being in the foundries and quarries, it was forwarded at once. All the other prominent hotels being destroyed, Mr. Palmer, with a zeal and energy alike creditable to himself and Chicago, is hastening with all possible dispatch to complete it, and promises to have it ready for the fall of 1872.
This grand building presents an appearance at once imposing and beautiful. Mr. J. M. Van Osdel, the architect, may well consider it his masterpiece. When completed, it will be, without question, the finest hotel building in the world. It is to be entirely fireproof, all the lessons of the great fire being carefully studied, and the facts provided by them applied to its construction.
Potter Palmer’s Grand Hotel—The Finest and Most Costly Structure in the World, Entirely Fire Proof, State and Monroe Streets and Wabash Avenue, Chicago
Julius Bauer & Co., will occupy three stores in this building, 60 by 145 feet, with a large stock of the celebrated Knabe and Bauer Pianos, Organs and all kinds of musical instruments. These stores will be fitted up in a style to render with the finest musical warerooms in the world.
This grand hotel covers an area of 72,000 square feet. The frontage on State street—destined to become a great thoroughfare of new Chicago—is 254 feet, running through to Wabash avenue, where its length is 140 feet. It will contain seven hundred rooms. The grand court yard aisle suits the entrance and departure of carriages. Its parlors and drawing rooms will excel those of even the Grande Hotel at Paris.
Having made a complete tour of the continent of Europe, examining the great hotels of the world, Mr. Palmer has incorporated into this structure the advantages and beauties of them all. The internal arrangements and domestic economy of the edifice will be perfect, and it will be opened under the auspices of parties able to make its working appointments equal to its external appearance. It will thus become, by August, 1872, the great hotel of Chicago—more elegant than any we have lost, but more costly and grand than any similar structure in the world.
Mr. Palmer, of whom we have present, in this connection, a life-like portrait , is now, more than ever before, entitled to the esteem of our citizens. His many marble buildings, including the old Palmer House, fell before the fire fiend while he was east. He returned to see them all in ashes. But with a fortitude unexampled, he gave immediate orders for the clearing away of the rubbish, and their re-erection in more elegant style than before. His architect was ordered to hasten the hotel we illustrate with all possible dispatch, as recognized that Chicago was temporarily crippled in its accommodations for the traveling public.
A heavy owner on State street, Mr. Palmer has bent all his energies to its improvement. He caused it to be welcomed, and along its course he erected marble palaces, the old Palmer House, and the building occupied by Messrs. Field, Leiter & Co., being the most prominent. With Spartan energy he now calmly but firmly commences again, with faith in Chicago undiminished, with belief in her future strengthened by the knowledge of her marvelous past.
Mr. Palmer’s great wealth has placed him prominently before the world for some time. His fortune was accumulated in Chicago, primarily in the dry goods business, but bitterly it has been greatly increased by his judicious and always successful real estate operations. He is the land man par excellence pof Chicago, and hence this brief sketch of him will be of interest to our readers. A pleasant gentleman, a man of unimpeachable integrity, he uses his vast means wisely and well, and always for the city of his faith, great, glorious Chicago!
The Land Owner, July, 1873
OUR GREAT HOTELS.—THE PALMER HOUSE.
Among all the splendid triumphs of our New Chicago, the grand structure now approaching completion at the corner of State and Monroe streets and Wabash avenue, stands pre-eminent. Its imposing proportions, its bold angles and cornices, its beautiful columns and statuary, its grand corner dome rising gracefully at the corner of State and Monroe streets, all unite to render it the architectural gem of the city, externally, while of its interior we will have more to say ere long.
There is no hotel in the country, we may safely say, which has been wrought from so much painful care and study. The owner, Mr. Potter Palmer, although having had great experience in constructing elegant and substantial buildings (including the Palmer House) before the fire, encountered great difficulties when he commenced the present Palmer House, as no entirely fire-proof building has been erected in the city, consequently both architect and workmen were unfamiliar with the working and handling of the materials necessary.
Mr. Palmer, with his usual energy and thoroughness, determined to master the difficulties of the construction himself, that he might guard against the mistakes which are often made under the supervision of the best architects. Every feature, when decided upon the best talent in our city, has been submitted to foreign architects, and their suggestions, if valuable, have been incorporated into the building. Mr. Palmer has also visited with his architect the principal hotels in Europe, and studied thoroughly the merits of such buildings as the Grand Hotel and Hoel du Louvre in Paris, Langham’s in London, and the Beau Rivage d’Angleterre and the Grand Hotel de la Paix, Geneva, and seized upon whatever was good and rejected the bad in them. Some ideas of the solidity of the building may be gained from the quantities of iron and brick alone which have entered it, there being more brick than in any two hotels in the country, with the exception of A. T. Stewart’s Working Woman’s Home, New York, and more iron than in all the hotels this side of the Atlantic, with the above exception. Most of the iron and marble work having been made in Europe, six journeys across the Atlantic have been found necessary by Palmer’s employees to order and superintend the work. Two iron stairways run the entire height of the building, as does also the grand Italian marble stairway which was cut in Carrara and is in itself a work of art, being entirely self-supporting, each piece being so accurately designed and cut that it fits into and supports every other portion, and is elegantly finished with massive bronze balusters and ornaments.
The marble wainscoting is another of the prominent features of the hotel, being distributed with a lavishness that characterizes the owner and is unsurpassed in the world for its elegance. The main halls, dining-room, breakfast room, office, ladies’ ordinary, stairway and entrance are wainscoted with different varieties of Italian marble, and will have superb marvel floors. The marble is beautifully cut and set in columns, giving a grand and palatial effect to the rooms, which reminds one of the state apartments of Tuileries in the palmy days of the Empire. The counters in the office are of the richest Carrara marble, with panels and columns of the celebrated rose brocatelle. The ceilings in the office, parlors, and dining-rooms and halls will be paneled and richly frescoed, and will also have richly moulded cornices.
Grand Dining Room in the Palmer House
Top illustration from The Land Owner.
The kitchen is a separate building, with perfect ventilation through shafts at the top, a most important feature, as it will relieve the guests from all the distasteful odors of the kitchen.
The artesian well is the court will supply its pure water for the kitchen and fountains, as well as for extinguishing incipient fires, although scarcely necessary, the entire structure being thoroughly and absolutely fire-proof.
While on this point, we would call attention to the construction of the hotel, as it has been seen day by day for the past two years by all of our citizens.
There are no wooden partitions dividing the apartments, every wall being of solid brick. The floors and ceiling are of plaster casts and corrugated iron. There is nothing that will ever burn—save the flag staff. Mr. Palmer has studied this point thoroughly.
Mr. Palmer is pushing the work with all possible despatch, employing constantly on the premises 350 workmen, as he means to have the main portion of the hotel completed in time for the Exposition this fall, the quantity of heavy material and great care used in its construction preventing its more rapid progress.
The citizens of Chic ago will better appreciate its size when completed, if we state that it will occupy 13,000 square feet of area more than is occupied by the present Grand Pacific Hotel. We might go on describing this great hotel at greater length, did our space permit, and always with interest. We will content ourselves, however, with giving the following tables, which will give some of the more prominent dimensions of the hotel.
The building has been for the past two years under the control of the talented young architect, Mr. C. M. Palmer, whom Mr. P. Palmer considers as a very superior architect, both as a designer and constructor.
The work of this hotel has been faithfully performed by all parties concerned. The iron work, including the elegant and massive fronts on both State and Monroe sts., was furnished by the Union Foundry Works, of this city, successors to N. S. Bouton & Co. This contract alone amounted to upwards of $100,000. As a specimen of our home workmanship, every citizen should be proud of it. This is one of the most extensive foundries in the United States, and since the fire the works have been run to their utmost capacity. The iron work for the great Exposition building on the lake front is now being cast by them, and the work will be done in an incredibly short space of time.
The galvanized iron cornices were furnished by Geo. M. Gross & Co., and do them much credit, it being one of the most elaborate jobs ever turned out in the country. The woodwork is in the hands of Goss & Phillips Manufacturing Co., and will be finished in the elegant style for which that large concern is famous.
The Land Owner, May, 1873
PALMER’S GRAND HOTEL.—FIVE HUNDRED MEN AT WORK BY CALCIUM LIGHT.
We present on the first page of the Supplement, this month, a scene of populular interest, that of working upon Palmer’s Grand Hotel at night, by the use of powerful calcium lights.
Mr. Palmer has been exerting himself to the utmost ever since the weather permitted of his resuming work upon his magnificent hotel building at the corner of State and Madison streets, to get in his iron and glass, before the expiration of the time when the rebate allowed by the Chicago relief bill would expire, but the last night of the rebate law was upon him, and yet there was an immense amount of his imported iron not in place. He summoned his foremen, contractors and men, and they agreed to make a night of it, and do the best they could. Calcium lights were provided, and at about seven o’clock in the evening pedestrians on the streets were surprised to see the grand architecture of his building looming up in the darkness under the rays of this powerful light. The structure seemed alive with men, their lanterns, like so many stars, glittering all about it, from roof, facade, basement, interior, elevators, etc., while teams of horses hauled the iron to the elevators, whence it was raised aloft and put by honest hands in its appointed place. Mr. Palmer appeared everywhere with his large lantern and his cheerful words to his men. Now he went up the elevator with a load of iron beams, accompanied by the special artist of The Land Owner, and he appeared in the grand rotunda, again on the ground, and the next moment he was in another part of the huge structure, that stood out in the artificial light like a great skeleton, rapidly receiving the different members that go to complete a perfect whole.
Working at Night on Palmer’s Grand Hotel, By Calcium Light.
It opened on November 8, 1873.
In this manner work was continued until about eleven o’clock, and the rebate upon the dutyable material put in place amounted to several thousand dollars. Each iron beam taken up the elevator cost $69 in gold, and the rebate amounted to over $10. This iron was imported from Belgium, and is the most general material used in the building.
From the roof of this enormous structure, at night, a curious scene presented itself. So perfect are its architectural proportions, that from the street its great height is not realized. The city seemed far beneath it, wrapped in the quiet of the evening, and the street-lamps were so many lines of flickering light. Descending to the grand rotunda, its vast proportions presented themselves. Here could be seen the Carrara marble wainscoting, cut in the quarries of Italy, and brought hither by Mr. Palmer. There arte 15,000 lineal feet of this marble wainscoting in the hotel. The marble staircase commences in the basement and extends to the eight story. The building is a perfect vault of iron, brick and stone. Whoever shall be a guest of this great caravansary in the future, can sleep in peace, for it will never be affected by fire. Mr. Palmer has given his exclusive personal attention to the work from the foundation. He intends to have the hotel completed in early August, and when it is thrown open to the public it will be the finest hotel in the world. We make no exceptions whatever. There is not a hotel in this country that approaches it, and you can travel around the world and not find its counterpart.
Of all the active men who have labored in the work of retoring Chicago, Potter Palmer stands first. He has shouldered a responsibility that few would dare undertake, and he will carry it to a grand consummation.
In a future issue of The Land Owner we shall present a magnificent double-page illustration of this hotel, with all the changes that have been made in the elevations since it was originally commenced. The plate is already in the hands of our engravers, and when it appears will show the world the grandest hotel building they ever dreamed of.
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
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 as the background for the 1879 visit of President Grant to Chicago
The Palmer House
THE BARBER SHOP FLOOR.
Palmer House Barber Shop, 1887
Chicago Tribune, January 16, 1887
The Palmer barber-shop is a place literally paved with silver. Each tile of the marble floor has a standard dollar set into it. There are 400 of them. The cowboys from the West stop and look. They try to dig them up—then laugh and fall back, and ask what they mean. “To make people ask questions,” was the response.
Chicago Tribune June 4, 1925
With Potter Palmer Jr. officiating, the cornerstone for the new Palmer House, State and Monroe streets, was laid yesterday morning. Mr. Palmer, son iof the original owner of the old Palmer house, Chicago’s most famous hotel, put into the hollow of the stone one of the silver dollars that studded the barber shop floor in the old days of the hotel. The original Palmer house was destroyed by the Chicago fire. Another was built in 1874 which contained 700 rooms. The new building will have 2,268 rooms. Its main lobby will be the largest in the country, 120 by 85 feet.
Chicago Tribune, December 14, 1945
They Were Mexican Dollars
A clamor for more information about the silver dollars in the flooring of the old Palmer House barbershop has brought the following footnote from that hostelry’s public relations department:
When the hotel was opened in 1873 the barbershop was a concession under the management of Col. W. S. Wooden. He decorated the floor of his shop with American dollars. A veteran employee of the Palmer family states that these coins numbered 825.
Three years later (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.
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 fourth Palmer House Under Construction, while the third is being torn down
Robinson’s Map 1886
Volume 1, Plate 7