Stop 11: Palmer House Hilton

17 E Monroe St Chicago

The Richard H. Driehaus Museum
Written By The Richard H. Driehaus Museum

The Richard H. Driehaus Museum explores the art, architecture, and design of the late 19th century to the present. Its permanent collection and temporary exhibitions are presented in an immersive experience within the restored Nickerson Mansion, completed in 1883. Vibrant educational and cultural programs, as well as exhibitions, place the Gilded Age in context and illuminate the history, culture and urban fabric of Chicago. Photo by Alexander Vertikoff, 2014.

Palmer House Hilton

The Palmer House Hilton is a historic hotel in downtown Chicago and the longest continuously operating hotel in North America. It was Chicago’s first hotel with elevators, as well as the first hotel with electricity and telephones in its rooms. Originally built as a wedding present from Gilded Age Chicago businessman, Potter Palmer, to his bride, Chicago socialite and art collector Bertha Honoré, it burned down thirteen days after it opened due to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The second iteration of the hotel was advertised as “The World’s Only Fireproof Hotel.”

The hotel we see today is the third version of the Palmer House Hilton. In the 1920s, the Palmer House hired architects Holabird & Roche to expand the already famous hotel from seven stories to twenty-five. The two 1.25-ton twenty-four karat gold life-sized figurative candelabras that illuminate the Empire Room staircase were commissioned during this expansion and are reputed to be Louis Comfort Tiffany creations. Commonly referred to as the “Golden Winged Angels,” recent research suggests that they are actually sirens, ancient Greek mythological creatures who lured sailors to their death with their enchanting music and singing voices. These sirens complement the ceiling fresco in the lobby depicting figures from Greek mythology done by French painter Louis Pierre Rigal. Both the ceiling fresco and angels were recently restored in 2019.

At the corner of State Street and Monroe, outside of the Palmer House Hilton, are two opulent bronze doors displaying a favorite design motif of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Peacocks, as a Christian symbol of eternal of life, were utilized in Tiffany’s ecclesiastical works such as the mosaics in Baltimore’s Old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Tiffany also used them as motifs in his secular works such as lamp shades utilizing opalescent and iridescent glass to mimic the natural beauty of a peacock’s feathers. The doors, both inside the Monroe entrance of the Palmer House Hilton and on the corner of State and Monroe, are another example of Tiffany utilizing peacocks as a decorative motif. Even without Tiffany’s signature glass work, the doors are a stunning representation of Tiffany’s eye for design. The doors and frame weigh well over a ton. Formerly the street level lobby doors of Chicago jewelry retailer, C.D. Peacock, these doors were the last notable Tiffany design to appear in Chicago. C.D. Peacock first opened its doors on February 9, 1837, the same year Chicago was incorporated as a city has been operating ever since. It is still in business today. Their past clients include Mary Todd Lincoln, Cyrus McCormick, Potter Palmer, and Mick Jagger.


Cover photo credit from get directly down via Flickr.

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The Driehaus Museum Presents Chicago Tiffany Trail

Stop 11: Palmer House Hilton

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