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How Five Historic Hotels in the City Wooed Their First Guests

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Hotels that truly want to put themselves at the top of the heap need to offer something special to visitors, whether it is a celebrity chef or over-the-top amenities. This was no different in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when some of San Francisco's most iconic hotels opened to the public. How did these hotels make a splash and market themselves to elite guests? We took a look at the opening enticements of five of San Francisco's most famous historic hotels.

The Palace, 1875

San Francisco's oldest surviving hotel provided guests with unheard of luxuries and experiences upon its opening. Carriages entered through seven stories of white columned balconies for check-in. Guests could then ride redwood-paneled hydraulic elevators to their rooms, each of which had an electronic call button to reach staff with any requests. Rooms could easily be connected to each other to create suites, and all rooms had their own private bathroom, a luxury at the time.

St. Francis, 1904

The Charles Crocker family that built the St. Francis wanted to make San Francisco "the Paris of the West," and the St. Francis was to be their flagship in this effort. In order to bolster their hotel's reputation they brought in one of America's first celebrity chefs, Frenchman Victor Hirtzler, who wore a red fez and a goatee to accompany his kitchen whites. During his life he worked both for Russia's Tsar Nicholas II and King Don Carlos of Portugal. To publicize himself and the St. Francis, he wrote cookbooks, invented new dishes and hosted extravagant meals.

The Fairmont, 1907

The Fairmont was set to open right before the 1906 earthquake, but a fire destroyed much of the building and its opening was delayed for a year. When the hotel finally debuted, it was with a lavish party that offered up 600 pounds of turtle, 13,000 oysters and $5,000 of French and California wines. At exactly 9 PM, fireworks lit up the new building and the rejuvenated city. The Fairmont offered its first guests a fireplace in every room and was also one of the first hotels to have air-conditioning.

Clift Hotel, 1915

Many of San Francisco's great hotels had been devastated in the 1906 earthquake, and out-of-towners remained nervous about visiting the city for years afterward. The Clift was the first hotel in the city to be both earthquake and fire-proof. Its 1915 opening was also just in time for the Pan Pacific Exposition, which aimed to show the world that San Francisco had recovered from the earthquake as it simultaneously celebrated the brand-new Panama Canal.

Sir Francis Drake, 1928

The Sir Francis Drake was unlike anything the city had seen when it opened its doors. Its state-of-the-art amenities included an indoor golf course and radios in every guest room. Window panes were made of a material called Vitaglass that let in ultra-violet rays, then considered to be healthy, and allowed guests to tan while inside. There was ice water on tap available and a fancy panel called a Servidor in room doors that enabled staff to discreetly pick up and deliver dry cleaning or other items.

· Palace Hotel History [Palace Hotel]
· Victor Hirtzler [Wikipedia]
· Fairmont San Francisco History [Fairmont Hotels]
· Clift (hotel) [Wikipedia]
· The Story of the Drake [Sir Francis Drake Hotel]