Baseball greats like Babe Ruth and Ted Williams wined, dined, and unwound at the Parker House. And it was here too, where generations of local and national politicians, including Ulysses S. Grant, James Michael Curley (Boston's Mayor of the poor), Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and William Jefferson Clinton, assembled for private meetings, press conferences, and power breakfasts.
The Omni Parker House is close to Boston's Theater District, and it has played an important role for thespians. Many of the finest actors from the nineteenth century made the hotel their home away from home, including Charlotte Cushman, Sarah Bernhardt, Edwin Booth, brother of the matinee-idol, John Wilkes Booth, who was seen pistol practicing nearby only eight days before the assassination of Abraham Lincoln; wouldn't you know it would be an actor jumping onto a stage in his last great performance at the Ford Theater in Washington, D.C. During the twentieth century, stage, screen, and television stars, from Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, and William ("Hopalong Cassidy") Boyd, to Adam "Batman" West, Kelsey Grammer (Cheers was started in Boston as a local pub.), David Shiner and the cast of "Seussical, the Musical", made the hotel their home.
The kitchens of the Parker House made Americana culinary culture a mainstay, with talented bakers who invented the famed Parker House roll. Parker's has also been the training ground for internationally known chefs.
The corner of Tremont and School is as old as Boston itself. In 1630, Englishman John Winthrop and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony first settled in the area, naming the peninsula Trimount, after the three hillsBeacon, Premberton, and Mount Vernondominating the landscape. The name was changed to Boston to honor the Lincolnshire town that many of the pilgrims had departed,. After the three mountains were leveled Tremont Street was laid out at the base of the hills and Boston Common. The location and name of School Street originated in Puritan times, as well. From 1635-1636, the British colonists established a college in nearby Cambridge (Harvard). By 1645 the prep school, America's first public school, was housed in a cabin on what would be know as School Street. The school was later known as Boston Latin, and it educated a host of Boston's elite, including Sam Adams, John Hancock, Charles Bullfinch, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ben Franklin was a dropout. Parker's Bar now sits where the old cabin was located.
Lieutenant Colonel George Washington was known to frequent the many taverns that sprung up on School Street; two colonial-era buildings still standKing's Chapel, a rough-hewn granite church completed in 1754, and the Old Corner Bookstore building, constructed in 1718 as an apothecary.
The earlier hotels were known as "houses." As more travelers arrived in Boston by coach or ship, lodging and dining houses bore patriotic names like American House, The Shawmut, the Adams, and The Revere House. The resident houses were genteel and sometimes luxurious, and some began to even accommodated ladies!
In the midst of this period of expansion and change, a 20-year-old farm boy named Harvey D. Parker arrived in Boston Harbor on a packet from Maine. The year was 1825, and with less than one dollar in his satchel, he was in immediate need of employment. His first job was as a caretaker for a horse and cow, which gave him eight dollars a month. Then as a coachman for a wealthy Watertown woman, he was set up on his career path.
Whenever Parker trotted the horse-drawn coach into Boston, his noon meal was at a dark, cellar café on Court Square, owned by John E. Hunt. By 1832, the ambitious Parker bough Hunt's café for $432, and renamed it Parker's Restaurant. A combination of excellent food and service won over a regular clientele of businessmen, lawyers, and newspapermen. By 1854 he embarked on a grander enterprise.
His plan was to build a new, first class hotel and restaurant at the School Street base of Beacon Hill, just down the road from the domed Massachusetts State House. Parker purchased the former Mico Mansion and razed the decrepit boarding house. In its place, Parker built an ornate, five story, Italianate-style stone and brick hotel, faced with gleaming white marble. The first and second floors featured arched windows, while marble steps led from the sidewalk to the marble foyer within. Once inside, thick carpets and fashionable horsehair divans completed an air of elegance. Above the front door, an engraved sign read simply, "Parker's." Even visiting British author Charles Dickens marveled at the splendor of Boston's finest new hotel.
The elegant new hotel on School Street was opened on a Saturday for public inspection, thus evolved the Saturday Club; The Parker House was on its was as a preeminant locale for the literati.
Don't discount the spirits served in the Omni Parker House barthey also have a history of their own, with such catching names as Sherry Cobbler, Timber Doodle, Mint Julep, Gin Fling, Sangaree, and the "Cocktail." You can still find draughts of rum, whiskey, and gin here. Harvard students readily found their way across the Charles River for a medicinal tot, and I bet they still congregate here on certain occasions.
Another culinary innovation was witnessed at the Parker House: "The European Plan," separating the charges for food and lodging. Before Parker came along, most inns and hotels had a single fee, with rigid dining schedules and uninspired meals.
In the twentieth century Parker House's rising (pun intended) restaurant chefs included some of the best in their field, including Emeril Lagasse, Vietnamese revolutionar, Ho Chi Minh served as a baker at the Parker House from 1911 to 1913; Malcolm Little, the black activist known as Malcolm X, was a busboy In the early 1940s Mezzo Soprano Denyce Graves was a night-shift telephone operator before gaining fame.
The Parker House's ideal downtown location made it the place for a guaranteed clientele. The Tremont Theater nearby hosted literary, musical, and political events. Horticultural Hall, home to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, was built in 1844, next door, prior to Parker House becoming a neighbor. King's Chapel, Boston's first Anglican Church and then Unitarian church, is still popular for worshippers, also nearby. Parker's continued to boom with the opening of the French Empire-style City Hall across the street in 1865. Ever since, theater stars and politicos have been mixing it up at The Parker House
Literary notables still gather at the Omni Parker House today. The new Literary Trail of Greater Boston was launched at a gala dinner there in 1999. Get the Literary Trail of Great Boston at bookstores. You can take a guided group tour ($20, includes lunch at the Colonial Inn in Concord; call: 617/574-5950) or go alone on the 20 mile route that begins at The Parker House, the official first stop on the walking and driving tour that heads to Concord, Emerson's home, and ends at Harvard Square in Cambridge. You will visit the homes and gathering places of America's most beloved authors. You will visit Orchard House where Louise May Alcott wrote "Little Women," and Walden Pond, where Emerson was inspired. You will experience the Athens of America, The Boston Public Library, the first free library in the U.S.
Quincy Marketplace and Fanueuil Hall are within walking distance. Today's Boston Theater District is only a few short blocks down Tremont Street. The Colonial Theater is the oldest continuously operating theater in Boston. The hotel is a sponsor of "Broadway in Boston," using the Colonial's fine facilities. In 1999 Gerald Charles Dickens, the novelist's great-great-grandson, reminisced at the hotel while appearing in his one man rendition of "A Christmas Carol" at Tremont Templeand he was served the same meal as the late, great author in 1867oysters with caviar, roast filet of beef fortiere, and Duchess potatoes.
At 14 stories high with polished Quincy granite on the exterior, lush ornamented public chambers with oak paneling, artfully plastered ceilings, crystal chandeliers, bronze detailed doors, it opened with 800 guest rooms. In 1969 the hotel was acquired by the Dunfey family, owners of the Omni Hotels (which they acquired in 1986), and the Omni Parker House became their 40 property flagship. In 1996, the Omni Hotels/North America was acquired by a holding company. In 2001 a major renovation was completed, making The Omni Parker House a 4-Diamond, Boston financial center hostelry favorite, with 18 elegant meeting rooms named after famous authors, 23,000 square feet feet of convention space, a business center, modern fitness center with state-of-the-art equipment, rooms with HBO cable TV, high speed internet data ports, and message phones.
Every President since Ulysseys S. Grant has stayed at the historic hostelry. There are reports that Harvey Parker's ghost roams the halls, checking the perfection of his hotel and restaurant that still bears his namea host that could not bring himself to leave.
Remember the words of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, in his poem, "At The Saturday Club":
Feature by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine. Read the Jetsetters Magazine feature, "Schooner Captain Capital."