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Palmer House and The Drake: Historic Chicago in Hilton Hotels

One of the unexpected surprises for me in visiting Chicago hotels were the old-style design elements I found at two historic Hilton hotels. The Palmer House is in the center of the entertainment district and The Drake is the north end of Michigan Avenue at Oak Street where it meets Lake Michigan in the Gold Coast district.

The Drake Hotel (Left bottom) and Gold Coast Chicago viewed from Westin Michigan Avenue

As a first-time tourist I hear Magnificent Mile and I think “Yeah, right?”

The Magnificent Mile is Michigan Avenue from the Chicago River north side from the Wrigley Building at the river with the InterContinental and Marriott  hotels just a few minutes walk to the river. The Drake Hotel is almost a mile north of the Chicago River where Michigan Avenue becomes the 8-lane U.S. Route 41 or Lakeshore Drive locally by name.

Google Maps-Chicago-The Drake Hotel (a Hilton Hotel)

This area is lovely and quite-safe feeling area of Chicago despite what your preconceived notions of downtown Chicago may be.  The area south of the river is a little more gritty, but the major streets of the Gold Coast, Magnificent Mile, and the Loop areas are packed with thousands of global tourists every day and there is certainly safety in numbers when in the hotel districts of downtown Chicago.

Hilton Palmer House Chicago

Palmer House Hotel is a hotel in the Loop district of Chicago and an official Chicago Landmark with a plaque. Holabird & Roche were the architects who designed the hotel in 1925-27, which, according to the plaque, was the world’s largest hotel at the time. Potter Palmer was an important Chicago businessman (click the Wikipedia link if you want to go off on an historical tangent.)

The hotel is designed in the Classical Revival style with French Neoclassical influences.

Holabird & Roche also designed Soldier Field Stadium in 1924 which is the Chicago Bears downtown lakefront stadium and noted as the smallest capacity stadium in the NFL at 61,500.

The Peacock Doors of the Palmer House hotel actually pay homage to the first retail business in Chicago, “House of Peacock”,  founded by Elijah Peacock in 1837.

One of the business joys of being a blogger is when I find totally unexpected connections in the blogosphere. Here is one of those Ethernet life connections as my wife loves to refer to them.

PeacockFairy blog on blogspot does more justice for the Hilton Palmer House than I can from my short visit. If you are at all interested in the Palmer House experience then read this blog post.

The Chicago French Connection

Bertha Palmer wanted all guests at the Palmer House to feel romance and this Romeo & Juliet bronze sculpture in the hotel lobby entrance was designed to inspire romance.

Like many other women who received far less acclaim than her husband during her life, Bertha Palmer was the cultural genius behind her husband’s successful business and was an instrumental force in bringing French impressionist art to Chicago.

The lobby of the Palmer House was “painted at the turn of the 19th century by French muralist Louis Pierre Rigal. The ceiling is actually 21 individual paintings done in the style of Michaelangelo but depicting Greek mythological subjects.” The previous line is ripped off the Palmer House hotel’s historical plaques.

All you budding photographers in the Chicago area should try and develop an astounding display of the 21 Palmer House ceiling paintings. I have a crap camera for 2010 and these are my photos of a few of the Palmer House ceiling paintings. Please leave a comment if you know a link to a website for good photos of the Palmer House ceiling paintings.

Here is a link to an official Palmer House webpage on several historical rooms of the hotel. Here is a Chicago Sun Times article on the historic Palmer House hotel. This newspaper piece is a great description of a visit to the Palmer House. I kept reading references to Chicago being the greatest place next to Paris for seeing French impressionist art. You know the Monet, Cassatt and Degas stuff.

Turns out that Bertha Palmer, the French-born wife of Potter Palmer, was the woman who acquired many of the French impressionist paintings currently in the Art Institute of Chicago for viewing today.

Mary Cassatt 'The Bath' 1893 - Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute is one block east of the Palmer House Hotel. Thursday evenings are free admission to the  Art Institute of Chicago, which I was fortunate enough to avail myself of during my visit last month.

Here is another one of those beautiful blog posts on the Hilton Palmer House Chicago Empire Room that you do not see the depth of vision when reading mainstream papers.

Chicago Location

Many of the tourist sites in Chicago are located between Soldier Field Chicago and the Gold Coast with Hilton’s The Drake Hotel. Soldier Field and the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum and planetarium are less than two miles southeast from the Hilton Palmer House on the lakefront, accessible  through urban parkland two blocks from the Hilton Palmer House.

The Drake Hotel is about 1.5 miles north of the Palmer House Hotel, and much of the main city tourist sights are in these sections of downtown lakefront Chicago with the Magnificent Mile in between the two hotels. Transportation is frequent along the lakefront and major north-south roads with buses every few minutes and the Red Line subway will take you between Chicago Avenue where the Magnificent Mile and Gold Coast districts meet and Monroe station that is right by the Palmer House Hotel.

Google Maps - Chicago - Walking Distance Between Palmer House and The Drake

The Drake Hotel Chicago, a  Hilton hotel

The Drake Hotel Chicago entrance

Here is the Wikipedia version of the Drake Hotel story.

The Drake Hotel has the best historic elevators I saw in Chicago. You feel history at the Drake.

Elevators to the lobby of The Drake have couches

“The Drake was built in 1920 as a summer resort in the middle of the city. It is a fourteen story structure, including 10 guest floors, and 800 guest rooms, private dining rooms, lobby and a colonnade dining room. The architect was Ben Marshall.”  is how the hotel concierge historical packet begins.

The Drake Hotel, Chicago - Michigan Avenue side of hotel

The Drake Hotel officially opened in 1920. Ownership changed after the 1929 stock market crash forced the Drake Brothers to sell the hotel in 1937 to the Kirkeby Brothers. The hotel survived escalating real estate prices and today occupies one of the highest valued pieces of real estate in Chicago.

Hilton took over the Drake Hotel in 1980.

The Drake Hotel, Chicago, East Walton Street main entrance

Coq d’Or was the second bar in Chicago to serve drinks at the end of Prohibition on December 6, 1933 at 8:30 pm. 200,000 gallons of whiskey in supply meant the party didn’t stop for some time.

1998 saw a major restoration of the lobby, Palm Court, French Room and Executive Floors.  

The Drake Hotel, Chicago - the lobby

The Palm Court was renovated and the fountain replaced.

The Drake Hotel, Chicago - The Palm Court

Suite 550 is the Presidential Suite. The 10th floor Executive Lounge at the top of the Drake Hotel looks out upon Lake Michigan. The Drake Hotel has 537 guest rooms.

The Drake Hotel Chicago - Palm Court fountain close-up

High tea at 4pm is still offered at The Drake.

The Drake - Real Chicago

Time and cost constraints make new build hotels loaded with sleek design elements, but real craftsmanship in physical details is rarely seen as with older hotel buildings.

The Drake Hotel Chicago - lobby clock

The beauty I find in old hotels is the design craftwork touches like trim moulding in the halls. I enjoy seeing restored older buildings become hotels or former landmark hotels be restored to past grandeur.

The Drake trim moulding

Celebrities of the past and present have slept in The Drake.

Park north of Oak Street - view from The Drake Chicago

Links: The Drake Hotel – hotel’s website

Palmer House Hotel virtual tour

Palmer House Hilton website


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