As mentioned in my previous posts, I find the history of the Fairmont San Francisco truly fascinating… so I thought I’d dedicate a blog post to sharing this history with all of you. This hotel was the original Fairmont hotel, and it most definitely has a story worth sharing.
In the 1890’s, a gentleman by the name of James Fair (or Bonanza Jim, depending on who you ask) bought real estate at the crest of Nob Hill in San Francisco. The cablecar had been invented years earlier, so San Francisco had started to develop in that direction. Fair hoped to build a family estate on this land, but he passed away before he could carry through his plans. In James Fair’s name, his daughters Tessie and Virginia decided to build the first hotel atop Nob Hill.
Not long before the hotel was scheduled to open in 1906, the Great Earthquake pounded San Francisco, and the Fairmont’s hefty columns saved it from collapsing. This hotel was chosen as the command post for the Mayor and city officials throughout the duration of the earthquake devastation. The group would sit in the lobby on crates and discussed ways to save the city.
The exterior of the Fairmont did survive the Earthquake, but the inside was damaged by fire. Because of this, Julia Morgan was brought in to rebuild the hotel. A year after the Great Earthquake, the Fairmont became the first hotel in San Francisco to re-open following the disaster. That evening, in celebration, guests enjoyed fireworks, as well as 600 pounds of turtle, 13000 oysters, and $5000 worth of wine.
Since then, the Fairmont San Francisco has been a center for dignitaries and celebrities alike (I can speak to that – apparently some foreign dignitary was staying there while we were there… the guys with earpieces couldn’t tell us who, though). In fact, this hotel housed the stage where Tony Bennett first sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”, as well as being the site of the drafting of the United Nations Charter in 1945.
In 1999, Fairmont Hotels merged with Canadian Pacific Hotels, forming Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, which is the existing body today. Also that year, the organization planned not a renovation, but a restoration of the Fairmont San Francisco. The idea here was to uncover as much of the original stylings of the hotel as possible, peeling away the work done in more recent years. This restoration is hailed as award-winning, and the results are evident upon entering the lobby.
And I will leave you with one final fun fact about this hotel. The TV series from the 1980’s titled “Hotel” was actually in the beginning largely filmed on-location at the Fairmont San Francisco.