Westin St Francis

Westin St Francis

When railroad baron Charles T. Crocker built the St. Francis in 1904, he wanted an elegant hotel worthy of the new class of millionaires, the bonanza kings of the new century. But after the great quake and fire of 1906, the devastated hotel had to be completely rebuilt. 750 rooms were added, making it the largest and most modern hotel on the Pacific Coast. Innovations included salt water Turkish baths, steaks cooked on electric grills in five minutes and pneumatic tubes that sent orders directly from the kitchen. Local lore has it that the grandfather clock in the redwood paneled lobby has been a favorite meeting spot for over 100 years. The St. Francis is still proud of the fact that it has hosted every U.S. President, since William Howard Taft.

But there is a dark side to the hotel’s history, too. Popular silent film comedian, 320 pound Fatty Arbuckle, was charged with the murder of young actress, Virginia Rappe, in a hotel room here after an alleged wild party in 1922. He was ultimately acquitted but the bad publicity ruined his career and caused the public to question Hollywood’s loose standards of morality. In 1975, Sara Jane Moore fired a gun across the street from the Fairmont at then President Gerald Ford, missing him when a bystander slapped her arm.

But the grand old brownstone hotel on the west side of Union Square has survived earthquake, fire and scandal. Today the Westin St. Francis has a 32 story tower (added in 1972) and outside glass elevators that rise at a speedy 1000 feet per minute. The hotel is elegant but still kid-friendly with gift bags at check-in and free drink refills in the restaurants. Surprisingly, the venerable St. Francis is more accessible to families than some other, newer San Francisco luxury hotels. The hotel has undergone recent renovations in the older building to keep up with current standards and will be renovating the tower elevators in the near future. Ask for an outside room on a high tower floor. (The management is very sensitive to guest concerns. If you are unhappy, they will upgrade you.)

A live webcam on the hotel website has views from the hotel as well as nice photos of rooms in the older main building and the newer, more modern tower accommodations.

The hotel’s award winning signature restaurant, Michael Mina, is a popular dining spot which features American cuisine. There is a three course, create your own prix-fixe option on the menu for dinner which can include lobster pot pie and whole fried chicken for two. Reservations are required : 415/397-9222. Dinner is served Tuesday-Saturday from 5:30 to 9:00, and until 9:30 on Friday and Saturday. The Oak Room Restaurant is more casual and open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and also serves Sunday brunch in the older section of the hotel. Reservations: 415/774-0624. Caruso’s, in the tower lobby, serves coffee and lighter fare.

Rooms start at $170/night. Valet parking is $49/day, $56 for oversized vehicles, both with in and out privileges.

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