the potter palmer mansion
In 1882, one of Chicago’s most famous capitalists, Potter Palmer, began construction on a new home at this address, between Banks and Schiller Streets. Designed by Henry Ives Cobb and Charles Sumner Frost, the 10,000 square-foot mansion cost one million dollars and required three years to build. At the time, it marked the first foray north of the Chicago River by a local aristocrat, and its presence heralded the establishment of the “Gold Coast” neighborhood. Palmer was more responsible than any other Chicagoan for the development of State Street, and he counted the Palmer House Hotel among his many real estate holdings. His wife Bertha, 23 years his junior, famously trafficked in elite social circles and entertained visiting dignitaries before, during, and after the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. Guests to the Palmer Mansion included Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, James Garfield, and William McKinley. An avid art collector, Bertha Palmer stocked a gallery inside the house with paintings by Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Claude Monet.
Inside, the mansion was a crazy quilt of European influences. There was a three-story central hall and Italianate atrium, a salon in the style of Louis XVI, an Indian room, a Moorish room, a grand ballroom, beautiful murals by Gabriel Ferrier, a grandiose spiral staircase, and even an elevator. The doors had no outside locks because up to 26 servants inhabited the house daily.
Potter Palmer died inside the home in 1902. Bertha Palmer continued to live there on-and-off until her death in 1918. Her sons continued to own the residence until 1930, when they sold it to Vincent Bendix, the aviation and automobile accessory tycoon, for $3 million. Potter Palmer, Jr. ultimately reacquired the mansion in 1933 for $1.5 million. The structure was demolished in 1951, and today two gigantic apartment buildings occupy that spot.
twelve years prior to the construction of the mansion, potter and bertha married at bertha's parents' home at 157 south michigan avenue.