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The Most Scandalous Stories in San Francisco Hotel History


Earlier this week Curbed brought you some of the creepiest stories related to San Francisco hotels, but there is plenty more juicy drama where those came from. Here now is a look at some of the most salacious and sordid tales to take place in hotels in San Francisco.


Palace Hotel:
We already told you about President Harding's mysterious death in 1923 at the Palace Hotel, but there's more to the story. Harding was actually on a cross-county tour to strengthen his popularity with the American people in the wake of the Teapot Dome scandal (holler, Downton Abbey fans). Some have speculated that his death was a poisoning by the oil industry, while others think his wife did it either to save him from the shame of the scandal. Her other suggested motive was murder as retribution for his notorious philandering and many illegitimate children (Harding had been quoted as saying "It's a good thing I'm not a woman. I would always be pregnant. I can't say no"....ewww.) It didn't help that his wife refused to let authorities perform an autopsy.


St. Francis Hotel:
In another presidential tale, then-President Gerald Ford was leaving the St. Francis after a speech before the World Affairs Council in 1975 when Sara Jane Moore fired her gun at the president, though the bullet ricocheted and injured a cab driver instead. Apparently she had been earlier recruited by the FBI for information in the Patty Hearst kidnapping, and was trying to regain the trust and friendship of her radical friends who dropped her once they found out she was an informant. She was later tried and sentenced to life imprisonment.


St. Francis Hotel:
The St. Francis also played a part in Woodrow Wilson's successful presidential bid. Apparently the famous chef of the St. Francis Victor Hirtzler cooked a dinner in 1916 for a benefit in honor of Wilson's opponent, former NY Governor Charles Evans Hughes. Unfortunately for Hughes, the benefit took place during a culinary workers union strike, turning the union against him and causing him to lose California by a tiny margin of votes. The loss of California tipped the election in Wilson's favor, all because of a fancy hotel dinner.


The Nymphia:
The Barbary Coast was the wild west in its truest form, and was home to many houses of ill repute. The biggest and baddest was the Hotel Nymphia, started by Casey Affleck's doppelganger and pleasure entrepreneur Emil Kehrlein. We can't even make this stuff up:
The Nymphia, a three-story building with about a hundred and fifty cubicles on each floor, was erected in 1899. The intention of the owners was to name the place the Hotel Nymphomania and to stock it with women suffering from that condition. When the police refused to permit that name, the owners compromised, calling it the Nymphia. Each female resident was required to remain naked at all times and was obliged to entertain any man who called. For a dime a customer would view the activities in any room through a narrow slit in the door. The place was first raided by police in 1900 and after several legal battles, finally closed down in 1903.
It was the largest and most notorious brothel on the West Coast.