< UNITED STATES | SAN FRANCISCO: Palace Hotel
Envisioned by William Chapman Ralston and William Sharon, the Palace Hotel was designed as the American counterpart to the grand hotels of Europe. Financed by Ralston's Bank of California, the $5 million dollar investment started construction of what was reputedly the largest, most luxurious and costly hotel in the world. Ralston, founder of the Bank of California, never saw the completion of his dream. Just before its opening, the Bank of California collapsed and the next day Ralston’s body was found, presumed a suicide. On October 2, 1875, Sharon opened the Palace Hotel.
Originally built by architect John P. Gaynor, the majestic building hailed 7,000 windows, 14-foot high ceilings and an unprecedented opulence. The Palace boasted 750 guest rooms, many
with private baths. In each of the lavish guest rooms, an electronic call button allowed guests to "ring" for anything they desired. Modern technology was also present with telegraph
communication on each of the seven floors, and five "rising rooms" - or elevators as we know them today.
The Palace Hotel quickly gained prominence among the traveling elite. Famed tenor Enrico Caruso was a guest at the hotel on April 18, 1906 when a devastating earthquake hit. While the hotel survived the quake structurally, it was decimated in the ensuing fire that swept most of downtown.
It took three years of rebuilding under the supervision of New York firm Trowbridge & Livingston, before the Palace Hotel would re-open on December 15th, 1909. It was for this second opening that the artist Maxfield Parrish was commissioned to paint the 16-foot mural “The Pied Piper of Hamlin” that is being displayed to this day in the Pied Piper Bar.
Crowned by a 7 million dollar stained-glass ceiling and flanked by a double row of massive Italian marble Ionic columns, the breathtaking Garden Court was unveiled in 1909. Measuring 110 feet (34 meters) long by 85 feet (26 m) wide, the room is adorned with original chandeliers made of the finest Austrian crystal. Since its debut in 1909, The Garden Court has been recognized as one of the world’s most beautiful public spaces. In 1969, this truly unforgettable place was designated San Francisco Landmark Number 18 by the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board.
Resuming its place among elite society, the new Palace Hotel attracted dignitaries, business moguls and celebrities alike. Presidents Harrison, McKinley, Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Taft, Harding, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Clinton all spent time here. John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan and Oscar Wilde were guests, and actress Sarah Bernhard caused a stir when she arrived with her pet baby tiger. Leaving its mark on the 20th Century, the hotel hosted President Woodrow Wilson in support of the Versailles Treaty and in 1945, catered the banquet honoring the opening session of the United Nations.
Created especially for the Palace reopening in 1909, the Palace Gold Service remains one of the oldest and most complete collections in the world. The beautiful gold rim china and stemware have been used at a banquet for General U.S. Grant, a State Dinner for President William McKinley, and an official dinner for Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Select pieces are on display in the lobby vitrines.
Palace chefs have always been known for their creativity and innovation. The famous Green Goddess Dressing was created at the Palace Hotel in 1923 by Executive Chef Phillip Roemer. The dressing was first served at a Palace dinner honoring actor George Arliss who was the lead in William Archer’s hit play “The Green Goddess”. The classic dressing continues to be used by celebrity chefs and featured in top culinary publications throughout the world.
An important part of both Palace and San Francisco history, The Pied Piper was commissioned from Maxfield Parrish for the hotel’s reopening in 1909. Parrish was paid $6,000 to create his masterpiece. Inspired by the legendary tale, the painting depicts the Pied Piper leading citizens out of the town of Hamelin, Germany. The art features 27 expressive faces including those of his wife, mistress, two sons and Parrish himself as the Pied Piper. Measuring 6 feet by 16 feet, The Pied Piper is among the most important large-scale works that Maxfield Parrish created during his career.
In January 1989, the Palace closed her doors for a major restoration. Twenty-seven months later, San Francisco witnessed the rebirth of the Palace Hotel. A 170 million dollar renovation allowed for all areas of historic importance, including The Garden Court, to be restored to their original grandeur. Modern amenities were added to once again create a world-class hotel in San Francisco. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the American Institute of Architects, the California Preservation and the California Heritage Council, among others, have all honored the Palace’s restoration with design and preservation awards.
In 2015, the Palace Hotel underwent a multi-million dollar renovation that married classically inspired contemporary design with authentic, historic architecture. Newly renovated guest accommodations present beautifully appointed rooms with 11 foot ceilings highlighting original details and elements. Luxury amenities include three award winning restaurants; The Garden Court, GC Lounge and the Pied Piper, 24 hour in room dining, a health club and a glass domed, sky lit indoor swimming pool.