The story of downtown Chicago’s Palmer House Hilton is one of romance and undeniable charm.
Potter Palmer was a Chicago business magnate—well-known for a variety of endeavors, including his significant role in the development of downtown Chicago’s iconic State Street.
Bertha Honore, 23 years Potter’s junior, was a wealthy socialite who also had a drive to learn and succeed.
An introduction by Potter’s former business partner, Marshall Field, sparked a romance—and eventual engagement—between Potter and Bertha that led to perhaps one of the most extravagant wedding gifts of all time – Palmer House. It was a grand Chicago Hotel—one destined to take its place among the most luxurious hotels in Chicago and beyond.
However, only 13 days after its grand opening, the Palmer House fell victim to the Great Chicago Fire. But that didn’t deter Potter. Determined to rebuild his hotel, Potter secured a $1.7 million loan–negotiated on his signature alone. On November 8, 1873, the new Palmer House welcomed its first guests, marking the opening of what would become the nation’s longest continually operating hotel.
The Brushstrokes of Bertha
Shortly after befriending Claude Monet in France, Bertha Palmer began decorating the Palmer House with paintings and other pieces inspired by her French heritage. She eventually accumulated the largest collection of impressionist art outside of France. The Palmer House was bedecked with garnet-draped chandeliers, Louis Comfort Tiffany masterpieces, and a breathtaking ceiling fresco by French painter Louis Pierre Rigal. The fresco was described by columnist George Will as “a wonderful protest of romance against the everydayness of life.”
A House of Stars
By the turn of the century, the Palmer House had become Chicago’s liveliest social center, hosting a long list of prominent figures—including those ranging from U.S. presidents to Charles Dickens to Oscar Wilde.
In 1933, the Golden Empire Dining Room of Palmer House was converted into an entertainment epicenter. It hosted legendary entertainers, including Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Louis Armstrong, and Liberace.
The Neverending Legend
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.
Clearly “the Chicago hotel the world knows best” has positioned itself for the next era in downtown Chicago accommodations–and the next generation of Palmer House Hilton with a hip and historic outlook.