Palmer House

The Palmer House is Chicago’s oldest hotel, and it’s built on a love story.

The Palmer House is opulence defined. Its chandeliers and sculptures weigh a literal ton. Entering the lobby through the travertine double staircase is like being smacked on one cheek with history and on the other with affluence. To state the obvious, it’s gorgeous, and it is the most historic and luxurious hotel lobby in Chicago.

It started with a love story, although it’s not as dramatic as one enduring myth would have you believe. There’s a consistent narrative about Palmer House’s beginnings that usually starts like this: Potter Palmer built his hotel as a wedding gift. The hotel opened on September 26, 1871, but burned down just 13 days later in the Great Chicago Fire.

While that is romantic and tragic, that’s not quite what happened. Even though the story is repeated over and over and has reached mythic proportions, like the tale that Mrs. O’Leary’s much-maligned cow started the Great Chicago Fire, it’s not accurate. But, parts of it are true, and it is still a love story, of both a December/May couple and the city they adored.

Read more about this landmark in Living Landmarks of Chicago.

Completed: 1873
Architect: John M. Van Osdel; Holabird & Roche
Address: 17 W. Monroe St.

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Sources for Palmer House

This is a selection of specific sources used to provide details while researching this landmark. Additional sources, including books and websites, can be found on the Resources page.

  • Bubil, Harold. “Mrs. Palmer and the roots of a Legacy.” Herald-Tribune, 17 Jan 2010.
  • Chicagology
  • Dean, C., of Chicago. The World’s Fair City And Her Enterprising Sons. [Chicago]: United publishing co., 1892.
  • Mack, Edwin F. (Edwin Frederick), b. 1860. Old Monroe Street: Notes On the Monroe Street of Early Chicago Days. Chicago: Central Trust Company of Illinois, 1914.
  • “Palmer-Honore. Brilliant Wedding in High Life—Marriage of Potter Palmer and Miss Bertha Honore.” The Chicago Tribune, 29 July 1870.