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 Post subject: I, Fatty Tidbit #17 - The St. Francis Hotel
PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2005 3:09 am 
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The St. Francis Hotel - PARIS OF THE WEST

Then......

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and Now...

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At the turn of the century, the guardians of the Charles Crocker family announced plans to build the finest hotel on the Pacific Coast. Their vision was to make San Francisco the “Paris of the West.” After studying all of Europe’s grand hotels – from those in Berlin, Vienna, and Monaco to Claridge’s in London to The Ritz in Paris – construction on the original St. Francis Hotel began. Two years and $2.5 million later, on March 21, 1904, the doors of The St. Francis opened. By seven o’clock that evening, a line of carriages and automobiles three blocks long waited in line to approach the brightly lit towers of the St. Francis. The hotel became so popular that within six months, the owners announced plans to add a third wing, two floors of apartments, and a ballroom. The hotel had become the center of the city’s social, literary, and artistic life.

“Meet me at the clock” continues to be a popular phrase as for nearly a century now, mothers and daughters, sons and fathers, friends and lovers, men and women from around the world have met beneath this grandfather timepiece. In fact, time seems to stand still in the Magneta clocks’ presence – so much has taken place here, so much of the world has gone by. The first master clock brought to the West, it was installed in the hotel’s Powell Street lobby following the Earthquake and fire of 1906, and today serves as an enduring symbol of the hotel’s longevity.

When the 1906 Earthquake struck at just after five in the morning, the structure of The St. Francis initially remained sound. Chef Victor Hirtzler and his staff swept out the kitchen and served breakfast in the café to tenor Enrico Caruso and other members of the Metropolitan Opera Company, who had wandered from another hotel to the safety of Union Square in their sleepwear. Young actor John Barrymore behaved in his customary manner after a night out on the town: he went upstairs to his room and went back to sleep until the final alarm sounded. Although the hotel was only slightly damaged by the earthquake, the ensuing fire was devastating. So it was surprising when workmen found the wine steward’s fox terrier shaken but alive in the hotel basement. Naturally, the dog who was christened “Francis,” quickly came to symbolize the hotel’s survival. Just 19 months after the fire, The St. Francis reopened – showing the world that San Francisco had triumphed over adversity.

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From the time of its initial construction in 1904, the St. Francis Hotel had been one of the most prestigious hotels in the West. Its public rooms and restaurants have been famous for their being the venues for events for renowned public figures, and for hosting the functions of San Francisco's social elite. U.S. presidents and the Emperor Hirohito of Japan, the Shah of Iran and the King of Malaysia, King Juan Carlos of Spain, Queen Elizabeth II of England, Mother Teresa, General Douglas MacArthur and Ernest Hemingway have been among those notables who have stayed at the St. Francis Hotel; and it was a favorite hostelry with actors and actresses from Hollywood. In 1921, the highest paid actor in the world, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, checked into a suite on the twelfth floor, where there ensued a tragic death of a woman who had attended a party he had given - a death which Arbuckle had nothing to do with - and which ended his career.*

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The St. Francis Hotel had been noted for its beautiful and prestigious public rooms. For many years, its restaurant was presided over by the legendary chef Victor Hirtzler; and for many decades, the elite of San Francisco society would lunch each Monday in the Mural Room where the Swiss maitre d' Ernest Gloor would seat the socialites in hierarchical precedence.

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But that is not the only reason The St. Francis has an estimable reputation. Since 1938, The Westin St. Francis has operated the world’s only silver coin cleaning operation as a favor to its guests. This custom began when the hotel’s manager insisted that the silver coins – the currency of the day – be cleaned to keep the ladies’ white gloves from getting dirty. Periodically, the change is collected, washed and polished in a silver-burnishing machine, rinsed off and dried under hot lights, then carried back to the front desk. For more than 31 years, Arnold Batliner laundered The St. Francis money – he cleaned an estimated $17 million in change. Today, every taxi driver and cashier in San Francisco knows that if they get mint-clean money, it’s probably from The St. Francis.

Just one more reason why this grand dame stands alone.



Resources:

The Westin St. Francis
*San Francisco Museum & Historical Society



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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2005 10:30 am 
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Wow! I'm impressed. Washing the change?!!



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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2005 11:01 am 
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I had the pleasure of having a drink at the St. Francis a few months ago with some friends. The perfect end to a beautiful day in San Francisco. :cloud9: It's a gorgeous hotel.



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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2005 12:46 pm 

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What a beautiful hotel - somehow not what I had envisioned - maybe because the 'party' which was supposed to be a drink up with a group of friends turned sleazy (and deadly) with no one who had Roscoe's best interests in mind in attendance -



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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2005 1:17 pm 
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What a lovely place to stay. I'm glad it survived the earthquake. I suppose the mention of the notorious incident was inevitable. :-/



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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2005 1:49 pm 
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Well, I am just so impressed at the money washing....that just floors me!

Quote:
For more than 31 years, Arnold Batliner laundered The St. Francis money – he cleaned an estimated $17 million in change.

Can you imagine the fun that he must have had telling people what his job was....."money laundering!"


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2005 6:02 pm 
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The St Francis was my father's favorite hotel and before we moved to California permanently, whenever we came out here (we had relatives here) we would always stay there. This was kind of like maybe 40-ish years ago and my brother and I were pretty little, so we had to be strictly on our best behavior while we were there. It was very elegant and very formal.

I also remember my dad telling me the incident about Fatty Arbuckle; but looking back on it now, and what I now know of it, he "censored" it and made it more "age appropriate." !



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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Jun 23, 2005 2:23 am 
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lizbet wrote:
What a beautiful hotel - somehow not what I had envisioned - maybe because the 'party' which was supposed to be a drink up with a group of friends turned sleazy (and deadly) with no one who had Roscoe's best interests in mind in attendance -


I never would have thought of it that way because I am so familiar with the St. Francis. But I can see now how you might think that. Very interesting.



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