The Paris of the West
At the turn of the century, the guardians of the Charles Crocker family announced plans to build the finest hotel on the Pacific Coast. Their vision was to make San Francisco the “Paris of the West.” After studying all of Europe’s grand hotels – from those in Berlin, Vienna, and Monaco to Claridge’s in London to The Ritz in Paris – construction on the original St. Francis Hotel began. Two years and $2.5 million later, on March 21, 1904, the doors of The St. Francis opened. By seven o’clock that evening, a line of carriages and automobiles three blocks long waited in line to approach the brightly lit towers of the St. Francis. The hotel became so popular that within six months, the owners announced plans to add a third wing, two floors of apartments, and a ballroom. The hotel had become the center of the city’s social, literary, and artistic life.
The Place to Meet
“Meet me at the clock” continues to be a popular phrase as for nearly a century now, mothers and daughters, sons and fathers, friends and lovers, men and women from around the world have met beneath this grandfather timepiece. In fact, time seems to stand still in the Magneta clocks’ presence – so much has taken place here, so much of the world has gone by. The first master clock brought to the West, it was installed in the hotel’s Powell Street lobby following the Earthquake and fire of 1906, and today serves as an enduring symbol of the hotel’s longevity.
An Enduring Legend
When the 1906 Earthquake struck at just after five in the morning, the structure of The St. Francis initially remained sound. Chef Victor Hirtzler and his staff swept out the kitchen and served breakfast in the café to tenor Enrico Caruso and other members of the Metropolitan Opera Company, who had wandered from another hotel to the safety of Union Square in their sleepwear. Young actor John Barrymore behaved in his customary manner after a night out on the town: he went upstairs to his room and went back to sleep until the final alarm sounded. Although the hotel was only slightly damaged by the earthquake, the ensuing fire was devastating. So it was surprising when workmen found the wine steward’s fox terrier shaken but alive in the hotel basement. Naturally, the dog who was christened “Francis,” quickly came to symbolize the hotel’s survival. Just 19 months after the fire, The St. Francis reopened – showing the world that San Francisco had triumphed over adversity.
Quintessential White Glove Treatment
Since 1938, The Westin St. Francis San Francisco on Union Square has operated the world’s only silver coin cleaning operation as a favor to its guests. This custom began when the hotel’s manager insisted that the silver coins – the currency of the day – be cleaned to keep the ladies’ white gloves from getting dirty. Periodically, the change is collected, washed and polished in a silver-burnishing machine, rinsed off and dried under hot lights, then carried back to the front desk. For more than 31 years, Arnold Batliner laundered The St. Francis money – he cleaned an estimated $17 million in change. Today, every taxi driver and cashier in San Francisco knows that if they get mint-clean money, it’s probably from The St. Francis. Just one more reason why this grand dame stands alone.