Bostons Omni Parker House Hotel

By: Kriss Hammond

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 Omni Parker House is located on today's Boston Freedom Trail, and it is a museum of its own in a way. Even though it has twenty-first century amenities, it still retains its nineteenth century charm and history. The lobby, bar-lounges, and restaurant are still armored with the dark wood hues, the elevators are freshly burnished bronze, while the walls are vintage American oak. When walking to my room I had to stop and view the numerous paintings on the hallways, a living museum, indeed. Crystal chandeliers glow in the lobby as a bus group was checking out. The lobby is a vibrant living landmark, more like a private clubroom, with many more exquisite paintings surrounding the museum goers—I mean guests.

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 hills—Beacon, Premberton, and Mount Vernon—dominating 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 stand—King's Chapel, a rough-hewn granite church completed in 1754, and the Old Corner Bookstore building, constructed in 1718 as an apothecary.
The concept of a "hotel" is a fairly recent one. In colonial Boston, travelers found rest and refreshment not in hotels or motels, but at local taverns and inns. Women were rarely on the road, so colonial males usually frequented the roadside taverns. They often even shared beds after quaffing pints of colonial beer. I guess after too many pints they began the foment for freedom and the rise of a radical cause—Independence.

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 simplyPsychology Articles, "Parker's." Even visiting British author Charles Dickens marveled at the splendor of Boston's finest new hotel.

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