40th Anniversary at The Fairmont!
On October 20th, Don and I drove to the top of Nob Hill to celebrate our 40th anniversary! We drove up to the classy entrance with the colorful flags and we valet parked for 76 dollars! That's more than we spent renting our wedding venue, in 1979!
But we were ready to splurge for a night in the grand hotel, that became the social hub of activity when it opened in 1907... at least, until the Great Depression. Yikes! 76 dollars would have bought lots of food and clothing for a needy family in the 1930's.I didn't allow myself to dwell on that too much, when we headed from our rental car into the land of luxury!
The enormous lobby was as magnificent as we remembered. Don and I briefly visited the hotel 3 years ago and put it on our "must stay here" list.
I remembered the swirling marble columns. They almost looked edible, like chocolate-caramel cheesecake!
The gilded ceiling detail made me think of empty frames.
I wanted some high scaffolding so I could pretend to be Michelangelo. What could I have painted inside those golden shapes?
We checked in at the desk and I asked a few questions. I was sad when I discovered the key boxes were just for show. I really wanted to use a brass key with a gold tassel.
I made sure to ask about the hours for the famed Tonga Room, that Don and I visited in 2016. Our desk clerk was excited to tell us the tropical bar/restaurant was open at 5, with live music at 8. Yay! Luckily we had packed the proper clothes for Tiki Time!
There is something like 55,000 square feet of "function space" at the Fairmont. That doesn't include the restaurants. The place is big... 591 guest rooms & suites! We got a little lost just looking for the proper elevator. But wandering is very fun at The Fairmont.
We took in lots of details in the lobby. The glass vases on the center table were lovely.
Earthquake of 1906
I wandered early the next morning to take photos without people. It's easier to imagine the past with no guests on cell phones. The palms in their decorative containers, looked very vintage Hollywood to me!
I tried to imagine what this space looked like in 1906, when the great earthquake hit San Francisco. The hotel had just been completed, but it took another year of repair before they opened. The building survived the earthquake, but the fires that followed, damaged the interior.
I have always loved a grand staircase! Looking upward, I wondered about the famous people who have walked down the marble stairs.
Nearly 20 presidents have stayed at the Fairmont. Nearly all from President Taft to President Obama, have been guests. They probably used a secret elevator.
There have been more celebrities than presidents though. I heard that Frank Sinatra always requested the same room on the second floor, so he didn't have to use the elevator. Imagine meeting him on the stairs!
I couldn't resist climbing! How often do you get to walk up marble steps and slide your hand over such a sleek railing. No one during our visit seemed to be using the stairs, so I felt like a little kid alone on the landing, spying down on my parents' party.
Statues and Mirrors
I wouldn't want to live in a palace with such decadence, but I loved being a guest for a night. I had to pause to study the marble lion and gold mirror. There are some surprises in that mirror frame, when you look closely.
The hotel's interior made a dramatic change in 1945. Dorothy Draper was the most famous interior designer of the time and she was called in for a major facelift. She brought in her "Modern Baroque" and transformed the hotel with her bold red fabrics and black lacquer. It wasn't until 1999, that they removed her red carpet that covered the marble lobby floors.
The Venetian Room
We only had a quick peek in the Venetian Room. Evidently Ms. Draper's remodeling of this grand ballroom was really what got the hotel out of its slump in 1947. It became quite the dinner club.
Many big names performed on the stage, from Nat "King" Cole to Tina Turner. Tony Bennet first sang "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" in this room. (Or so I was told) There was a statue of him out in front, that was installed for his 90th birthday in 2016. It was a sweet looking image, surrounded by grass and flowers. But why didn't the artist have Tony's mouth open, just a bit? I wanted to see him sing.
I love a good circus theme, so I was pretty curious about this fabulous Art Deco Bar.
There were 9 colorful murals, painted by the famed Bruton sisters, in 1933. This was years before Ms. Draper did her decorating thing!
This whimsical space with all its curves and colors, was the first bar to open in San Francisco after the repeal of Prohibition. Sadly it was not open to us, during our stay.
Women of The Fairmont
The murals in the Cirque Bar were created by two sisters, but I wonder if the bar allowed women when it first opened. Hmm? Another set of sisters was involved in the hotel even earlier. Virginia and Tessie Fair had the hotel built to honor their wealthy father, after he died. James Graham Fair had owned the property perched high over San Francisco. The "mont" after the family name, refers to the hotel's mountain-like location. I've been to a few Fairmont hotels and never knew the name history.
This is a photograph of Esther Bruton, beside one of the Cirque paintings. Years before, another woman took on an even bigger role with the hotel. After the earthquake of 1906, architect/engineer Julia Morgan was hired to help tackle the issues of the heavily damaged interior. Her expertise with reinforced concrete came in very handy. Cheers to all the women of Fairmont!
Finding Our Room
We could have booked a room in the 23-story tower, that was added in 1961. The views are spectacular from most of those rooms.
But Don and I always prefer the historical experience (and sometimes the price) of staying in original rooms. We headed up to the third floor and down a hall, with some nice black and white photographs. When we stepped into our room 332, a classy photo image greeted us in the entry.
The room itself wasn't grand or over the top, but it was large and nicely updated, with more photos of San Fran scenes. Love it! The bathroom wasn't memorable, but I appreciated having a tub.
The bed, pillows and linens were comfy soft. There were good lamps and tables and a large TV. The colors were calm. No signs of Dorothy Draper.
There was a surprise Anniversary treat, waiting on a plate! The "N" was a chewy brownie and the chocolate covered strawberries were juicy-sweet. Luckily our comp snack made the "room bar" goodies less tempting. Don laughed when he picked up the tiny Pringles container. "Seven dollars?"
We didn't have a Tower Room with a view of The Bay, but we had a great view of the rooftop "Square" below.
The view was like a picture and I loved looking at it, through the original wood-framed window. The thick window was the only thing in the room that reminded me that our hotel was over a century old.
In the evening and morning, we enjoyed a little time exploring the rooftop garden that we could see from our room. Green grass, flowers, palms, trickling fountain... and an herb garden and honey beehives.
The garden gave us a good place to check out the architecture of the old hotel. We never figured out which room was ours. It did make us wonder about the rooms with terraces!
More Views From Square
When I walked to the railing of the garden, I found the best view.
What fun watching cable cars going up and down Powell Street, just below. And there was Coit Tower and the Bay! That view inspired us to do some walking the next day.
Evening at Fairmont!
By 5:00, we were in our tiki clothes and on our way to the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar!
We headed down the elevator to find the basement lounge which opened in 1945, when the hotel's pool was cleverly transformed into a Polynesian lagoon.
Here's a photo from 3 years ago, when Don and I sipped tiki cocktails and grinned at the floating band boat. We laughed each time a thunderstorm rumbled down on the water!
No Tonga Time for Us!
On the evening of our anniversary, we headed past some vintage displays and moved towards the glowing space. Then we were stopped by a man who announced, "We are closed for an event. Sorry." My jaw dropped. The man didn't really seem to care that we'd been told at the desk that it opened at 5. He wasn't impressed that it was our 40th anniversary and we'd come from Houston. He certainly didn't get the significance, when I told him I'd bought my flamingo dress online just for this night! But he did take our photo and yes we smiled.
It would have been easier to take the news, if the doors had been closed. But we were able to see the Microsoft "event people" sitting around on laptops, using the space like an airport lounge. In fact Microsoft was using almost every event space in the hotel. I'm still trying not to be mad at Microsoft.
But, there was no time for sulking. We headed up another grand staircase.
The marble stairs brought us up to the Laurel Court Restaurant and Bar.
When we visited 3 years ago, a piano player performed under the middle of 3 domes.
There was no piano music at 5:30 on our anniversary night, but the 3-domed space was lovely. Plus it was open. We can't take things like that for granted. In fact the whole Laurel Court space was closed down for 6 decades.
We made a quick costume change, (I just grabbed a sweater) and returned to the lounge where we made a toast to ourselves with French 75s! We thought about dining in the rounded room with ionic columns and murals... but we decided to move on.
Off to Explore!
We celebrated the fact we were staying in the one of the best locations in San Francisco and we took off walking.
We had a drink at the top of Sir Francis Drake Hotel and we had a ridiculously fun, retro bite at Sears Fine Food!
Then we headed towards our hotel, but made a stop just across the street, at the Mark Hopkins. Drinks at "Top of the Mark" and then back to The Fairmont, where the flags welcomed us back.
Morning at Fairmont
The next morning, we woke to lovely weather. We enjoyed our comfy hotel until late morning, then took advantage of our location once again. The hotel held our bags and allowed us to keep our car in valet until 4!
We headed off, walking DOWN Powell Street towards Fisherman's Wharf... with detours to Grace Cathedral and Chinatown. We ate lobster rolls and rode the cable car up to Nob Hill. One more perk of our hotel... All cable car lines meet at the top of Nob Hill, near the hotel.
We had a great 24 hour stay at The Fairmont. Besides the glitches (due to Microsoft's takeover) the hotel was lovely and we were treated well. But honestly our stay had more to do with the hotel's incredible history and our own silly fun, exploring and absorbing.
There's so much we did not see or sample, but we had a ball... without making use of any of the numerous, ballrooms! We didn't stay in a lavish suite, or even explore the Tower. We didn't get pampered in the spa and we didn't even wine and dine properly. We might have had a little more royal treatment if we'd spent more, but we left happy and full of memories and knowledge!
Did I mention those international flags on the porte-cochere? In 1945 The Fairmont hosted meetings that led to the creation of the United Nations! Wow! I love hotels with history!
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!