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December 2005

by Bonnie Carroll

Inspired by visionary, William Ralston, the Palace Hotel was the result of one man's dream of turning the city from boom town into a booming metropolis, simply by erecting a hotel of timeless elegance and unprecedented luxury. To finance his dream and its $5 million price tag, he exhausted his banking empire. Just weeks before the Palace's grand opening, he was told the Bank of California would close. The next day, Ralston's body was found floating in the San Francisco Bay. His partner, Senator William Sharon, was undeterred in fostering the dream. On October 2, 1875, the Palace Hotel opened its doors to great acclaim. At that time the Garden Court was the carriage entrance to this grand hotel.

San Francisco, an American City

Admirers were awed by the hotel's four hydraulic elevators known as "rising rooms." Now guests could reach the hotel's top floors without effort. Each room was equipped with an electronic call button so that every guest's whim was met quickly and fulfilled completely.

The Garden Court 1875

Then, in 1906, a massive earthquake shook all of San Francisco. The Palace survived the quake, but was overtaken by fires that engulfed the city in its wake. In 1906, following the earthquake, the Palace closed its doors for the first restoration. Three years later, the carriage entrance was transformed and The Garden Court was unveiled.

Decades had passed since the Grand Dame's 1909 re-opening and San Francisco's "Beauty" was in desperate need of attention. In January 1989, the Palace closed its doors for a major restoration. When restoration began, the people of San Francisco were extremely concerned about the plans for the hotel and The Garden Court in particular. Everyone was assured that the goal was to restore the hotel to is 1909 elegance. In 1991, the restoration was complete and the Palace opened its doors.

In 2002 I was in San Francisco for an annual Food Show at the Convention Center, and I was invited to breakfast by an employee of the Royal Hawaiian, a sister hotel of the Palace Hotel. It was early in the morning, and I walked from my hotel up the historic street to my destination. The lobby and atrium dining area were virtually empty, and I was not familiar with the hotel so I decided to look at the restaurant located at the far end in the corner. When I reached the doors they were locked, and I began the decent down the stairs to return to the main dining area. Suddenly I was flying through the air down and passed the steps. I landed on my knee with all my weight, and rolled on the floor in agony, for what seemed like hours, until some security people came to help me.

I was so embarrassed, and tried to pretend all was well. An ice bandage was placed on my knee and I attempted to enjoy my breakfast in the Garden Court with my host. On leaving the hotel, it was obvious that I was seriously hurt. I called a cab to take me back to the W Hotel, but I could not put any weight on my leg. The concierge at the W Hotel arranged for a limo and helped me, in a wheel chair, to depart for the airport. Upon my arrival in Los Angeles I went directly to the hospital by taxi.

I had hurt myself badly, and spent the next three to four months walking with a cane, and undergoing therapy to try and get back to normal. For the first and only time in my life I experienced what "handicapped" meant. Because I could not drive or service my clients, I found myself in near financial ruin, requiring me to downsize my life to remain in a survival mode. The insurance company that represents The Palace gave me a small amount of money initially to cover my MRI and some physical therapy, but refused to even consider anything further. They could not find any reason for my sudden decent down their marble stairs, and really could care less. That there might have been something on the steps, or a slippery treatment on the floor, or early morning moisture that caused the fall was out of the question for them to even consider.

Today, after years of discomfort with my knee, I have adjusted my attitude to the hotel's point of view, that the whole accident was a mystery, and I have acknowledged that the only thing that could have caused such a sudden and violent decent down those stairs was a hard push from a resident poltergeist, and one who is very angry indeed. You might want to consider your chances for a possible strange encounter of this type if you are studying the historic details surrounging this mysterious venue. Some travelers seek out such destinations. They say a woman hanged herself in the Del Coronado Hotel, and people actually request that room to sleep in. I think there is a television show that does whole segments on this type of spirit activity in old buildings, perhaps they should give The Palace a peek!

If you can afford to lose several productive years of your life, incur expensive medical costs, and possibly lose your business just to learn about old San Francisco, by all means do visit this icon . But, as you can imagine, I won't be going there any time soon. I'll stick to the W Hotel, where you get anything you want - any time you want it, or the stately old Stanford Court, where hoteliers like Clefs d'Or Ric Lee give two hundred percent to guest comfort.

Stanford Court
Nob Hill - 905 California Street


© 2008 Bonnie Carroll, All Rights Reserved