Every major American city has a jewelry story that has appealed to high society, and Chicago is no exception. The city's first jewelry store was run by one Elijah Peacock, which he opened in 1837, the same year Chicago was established as a city. In a very real sense it predated the establishment of a nouveau riche class of Chicago residents. Nevertheless, the store served members of the moneyed elite, who stepped into the store through a set of doors that exemplified the riches inside.
An Opulent Entrance
Today, the house of Peacock still maintains a presence in downtown Chicago on State Street, but to truly experience their period of grandeur, you will need to take a trip over to the opulent Palmer House Hilton hotel on Monroe Street. Stepping into the main entrance, you'll find yourself standing in front of the grand bronze doors created by Louis Comfort Tiffany for Peacock's former storefront, which was around the corner on State Street.
When the doors were installed as the main entrance to the former grand store in the late 1880s, any given day might see a visit by the doyenne of Chicago society Mrs. Potter Palmer herself, along with other personages such as Cyrus McCormick (he of the reaper), railroad sleeping car titan George M. Pullman or Mary Todd Lincoln. Each morning these doors would be ceremonially propped open in place so that passers-by could get a quick glimpse of the literal jewels and baubles within.
Elaborate Adornment and Intricate Details
As visitors approach the doors, they should look above the main ornamental features, as they will find a bronze peacock gazing down at them. The main doors and the frame weigh well over a ton, and they are adorned with two rather elaborate peacocks whose long, detailed plumed tails arcade across the entire surface of the doors.
It is worth it to take some time out to examine these bronze doors closely, as they were hand-forged and their intricate work will most not likely be duplicated anytime soon.
As a reminder of Chicago's golden age of upscale retailing, they are a rather pleasant and wonderful memento. As a symbol of those industrialists and moneyed elites, they are even more fascinating, as one thinks about the stories that these personages could have told about their time passing between the gaze of these two fine birds.
P is for the Palmer House Peacocks is part of an ongoing series exploring Chicago from A to Z, highlighting a unique Chicago place and theme for each letter of the alphabet. Stay tuned for more entries!