The historic Palmer House, a Hilton Hotel, celebrated its 150th anniversary today, December 8. A ceremony and celebration took place in the hotel’s grand lobby before a crowd of fans, friends and media. The event honored both the milestone anniversary and National Brownie Day (paying homage to the original brownie recipe that was invented at the hotel).
The lobby came alive with digital projections of historic photos along the walls, a gallery of never-before-seen historic artifacts and a proclamation from the Mayor of Chicago Lori Lightfoot declaring today to be “Palmer House, a Hilton Hotel Day in Chicago, in celebration of 150 years of history, elegance and hospitality.” The State of Illinois also issued a proclamation honoring the hotel.
The Palmer House first opened on September 26, 1871. The hotel began as an extravagant wedding gift from Potter Palmer to his bride Bertha Honore and was immediately regarded as one of the most luxurious hotels in Chicago. Just 13 days after its grand opening, the Palmer House was completely destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire. However, not to be deterred, founder Potter Palmer rebuilt the grand hotel and the new Palmer House welcomed its first guests on November 8, 1873, marking the opening of what would become the nation’s longest continually operating hotel. (With 1,641 rooms, the hotel offers several dining options, including the seasonally inspired cuisine at Lockwood Restaurant and Potters Chicago Burger Bar featuring a burger menu built around the Chicago neighborhoods. The property also features an 8,000 square-foot oasis known as The Spa at Palmer House.)
One of the hotel’s many claims to fame is the creation of the chocolate fudge brownie. This luscious confection was created in the Palmer House pastry kitchen as a portable dessert to be served at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Bertha Palmer requested the pastry chef at the time to create something different and easily portable, thus the brownie was born. Over a century later, the same recipe is used to create the decadent and highly sought-after brownies which are still served at The Palmer House today.
Speakers included Michael Edward, president/CEO Chicago Loop Alliance, Greg Cameron, president/CEO of The Joffrey Ballet and Chairman of the State Street Commission, and Larry Horowitz, executive director of the Historic Hotels of America, who called the Palmer House “one of the grandest hotels ever built.”
Dean Lane, Palmer House General Manager, thanked the attendees and praised his staff, who speak 25 languages. He said, “The Palmer House is one of North America’s great hotels, and one that was inspired by love.” He spoke about how, moments before the fire, pioneer architect John Mills Van Osdel and Potter buried the hotel’s plans and records under 2 feet of sand and wet clay, preserving the documents while conceiving a method of fireproofing with clay tile. He added, “In the rubbles of the fire, Potter had the fortitude to go to St. Louis to secure $1.7 million loan on a new hotel.”
Lane shared some of the many firsts the hotel is known for:
1) The first fire-proof building. Potter challenged anyone to start a fire in its guest rooms.
2) The first hotel to install Alexander Graham Bell’s original telephone in every guest room.
3) The first use of the “vertical steam railroad,” which would later become the elevator.
4) The first hotel to use Edison’s modern lightbulb in every guest room.
5) And maybe, most notably, the birthplace of the original chocolate fudge brownie, created by Bertha Palmer and the hotel chef to be served at the 1893 World’s Fair.
Lane spoke about some of the many proud moments in the history of the hotel. In 1879, Bertha Palmer’s sister Ida was married to President Ulysses S. Grant. The hotel hosted a banquet dubbed “the greatest banquet in American history” to commemorate the return of the President’s trip around the world. Mark Twain, a friend of the Potters, served as emcee. (Twain’s beer stein from this event was on display on the mezzanine as was Bertha’s French Haviland China that was used and is estimated at $30,000 per place setting, among many other items.) (First published in Chicago Star)
(Palmer House, A Hilton Hotel, 17 E. Monroe, www.hilton.com, 312.726.7500)
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