Steeped in History: San Francisco’s Award-Winning Palace Hotel

Garden Court, Palace Hotel, San Francisco, California (Carol M. Highsmith Archive, circa 2000, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, public domain).

Garden Court, Palace Hotel, San Francisco, California (Carol M. Highsmith Archive, circa 2000, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, public domain).

 

 

Intended by its founders to rival Europe’s grandest of grand getaways, San Francisco’s Palace Hotel quickly became the most expensive lodging establishment on earth after it opened its doors in 1875. Since that time, it has been defined not just by its opulence, but for its technological innovation. (Early visitors were reportedly dazzled by the hotel’s hydraulic elevators and electronic call buttons for guest room service.)

Pres. Woodrow Wilson Hosting Versailles Treaty Luncheon, Palace Hotel San Francisco (1919, public domain).

U.S. President Woodrow Wilson Hosting Treaty of Versailles luncheon, Palace Hotel, San Francisco (1919, public domain).

Over the years, it has also been a go-to site of history makers for key world events. The Palace has welcomed visiting royals, as well as U.S. presidents from Teddy Roosevelt to Bill Clinton and, in 1919, hosted President Woodrow Wilson’s Treaty of Versailles luncheon.

Foodies, however, understand the Palace’s history from an entirely different perspective – the hotel’s place in culinary lore. Not only is the hotel home to one of the most historic gold services worldwide (first set on Palace dinner tables in 1909), but in 1923, its staff gained fame for conjuring The Green Goddess Dressing in celebration of the similarly titled play (The Green Goddess) which thrilled theater goers that same year.

Despite having undergone several transformations in its history, the Palace has never lost its aura of dignified splendor. Totally rebuilt following its destruction during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, the aging establishment underwent a two-year major retrofit following the Bay Area’s second most devastating quake (the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake), and received another facelift in 2015 – this one to the tune of $40 million.

The Pied Piper mural of Maxfield Parish at San Francisco’s famed Palace Hotel (detail, circa 2012, public domain).

The Pied Piper mural of Maxfield Parish at San Francisco’s famed Palace Hotel (detail, circa 2012, public domain).

Another foodie and history buff favorite amenity of the Palace is its cozy, mahogany-paneled Pied Piper Bar and Grill, a popular watering spot for local luminaries since the hotel’s grand re-opening in 1909. Legendary newspaperman Herb Caen was a regular here during his tenure with the San Francisco Chronicle. He ate, drank and was merry with fellow San Franciscans beneath one of the city’s most iconic and beloved works of art – The Pied Piper mural which was initially commissioned by the Palace’s owners for “the men’s bar.” Awarded $6,000 to create the 250-pound mural, Maxfield Parrish reportedly added a special touch; he painted his own image into the work – preserving himself for posterity as the mural’s central figure, the Pied Piper.

Now estimated to be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million or more and an equally impressive 16 feet long and six feet high, the mural has been described by San Francisco preservationists as “the essence of San Francisco.”

Even cozier than the bar? The hotel’s well-appointed rooms. Prices typically range from $270 to $7,550 per night, but special offer rates can be booked at less than $200 per night at different times throughout the year, including during the holidays.

In 2015, the Palace became part of the Marriott chain when that system merged with Starwood, and in 2016, it was named the Best Historic Hotel in the over 400 guest room category by Historic Hotels of America®, an initiative of the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation. According to NTHP representatives, in order to be “selected for membership into this prestigious program, a hotel must be at least 50 years old; [have]  been designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark or listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places; and recognized as having historic significance.” Winners of the award are typically celebrated for having “faithfully maintained their authenticity, sense of place, and architectural integrity in the United States of America.”

To learn more about the Palace or to book your stay, visit the hotel’s website.

 

 

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