Very few public buildings in the world have struck travelers with greater astonishment than the Palace Hotel of San Francisco. This seems a bold assertion to make, but it is nevertheless true. The pyramids and other marvels of antiquity, the great castles of the middle ages, and the magnificent abodes of modern royalty, are very wonderful and awe inspiring, no doubt; but they have been talked about so much and described so often, that the traveler not only knows what to expect before seeing them, but often finds that his anticipations were vastly finer than the reality. Now, with regard to the Palace Hotel this is not the case. It, too, has been talked about a great deal—so much, in fact, that there is today hardly any one in the East or in Europe who has not heard of “the biggest hotel in the world.” But people instinctively form their ideas by comparison, and when the traveler has anticipated seeing in the Palace a larger hotel than he has ever seen before, his imagination is satisfied. He is not prepared to enter a caravansary beside whose mighty proportions all others in the world are dwarfed into insignificance, and in comparison with whose luxurious appointments and modern improvements all others seem shabby and old-fashioned. Hence it comes about that the guest who for the first time experiences the hospitality of the Palace, must be a very unimpressionable creature if he is not surprised into a state of astonished admiration from which he does not find it easy to recover.
When a deep basement covering two and a quarter acres underlies seven (and through a considerable portion eight) lofty stories, one would think that surely the daring enterprise of the builder and owner of such a colossal structure had reached its limit. Such, however, is not the case with Senator William Sharon, the designer and proprietor of the Palace. Stupendous as were the original proportions of the hotel, they are now vastly enlarged by its elegant neighbor, the “Grand,” being joined to it by a bridge crossing New Montgomery Street. The Grand is itself not only a very large hotel, but is acknowledged to be one of the handsomest buildings, architecturally, in San Francisco. To take a fanciful view of the event it looks as if the giant Palace had fallen in love with his beautiful neighbor, and, after many years of wooing, had persuaded her to marry him. And this idea is strengthened by the fact that the Grand has lately been magnificently refurnished throughout, nearly all the old furniture, as our readers will remember, have been sold at auction, so that the bride goes to the groom equipped with a splendid trousseau.
The bridge which forms the matrimonial bond between this Brobdignagian couple is in itself a structure well worthy of description. In appearance, both from within and without, it is singularly light and elegant. Its architect, Mr. J. P. Gaynor, showed his usual skill and irreproachable taste in producing this effect, for it spans a broad and beautiful street, and anything at all heavy or ugly to such a position would have marred one of our handsomest thoroughfares. But, with all its graceful and airy appearance, the bridge is of very great strength, and here, again, the architect knew what he was about, for the strain on it will necessarily be considerable, and its breaking down would involve most disastrous results. Mr. Gaynor’s plans have been most ably and thoroughly followed by Messrs. Terrill and Slaven, the contractors, in whose hands the carrying out of the entire work was placed. Nor was it a trifling undertaking, for the link between the two hotels has been built after the same fine fashion that characterizes the edifices it connects. Its length is 72 feet, its breadth 10 feet, it spans the road at a height of 23 feet, from floor to ceiling it is nearly as much more, while from the street to the top of the ridge of delicate iron lacework surmounting it is a distance of 50 feet. The whole is framed in the best possible manner, and profusely glazed with heavy plate glass till it looks like an aerial conservatory. The interior is richly painted and carpeted. The total cost was between $4,000 and $5,000.
Among the many advantages which will be gained by this connection of the two hotels, one ought to be especially mentioned. The guests of both will now all dine in the magnificent dining room of the Palace, or in the renowned restaurant which is an adjunct to that hotel. Consequently, the ranges have all been removed from the Grand. Now, it is well known to those familiar with such matters that the greatest danger of fire in hotel exists in its kitchens. So necessarily intense and constant is the heat in the ranges that they “burn out” very rapidly, and no matter how close the watch kept over them, they can never be said to be absolutely safe unless the kitchen department is fire proof. The kitchens of the Palace are perfectly fire proof, and there henceforward all the cooking will be done.
Although the two hotels are thus practically converted into one, it will readily be seen that the management of such an enormous establishment would overtax the energies of an single human being, no matter what his ability and energy. The Grand will, therefore, continue to be ably managed by Mr. S. F. Thorn, than whom no more genial and agreeable gentleman ever played the pleasant role of Boniface. The Palace, in like manner, will remain under the superintendence of Mr. A. D. Sharon, nephew of the proprietor, Senator Sharon, and lessee of the building. As a hotel manager, Mr. Sharon is unquestionably the pink of perfection. While gentlemanly, affable and courteous to all, he at the same time possesses an extraordinary amount of executive ability. He has, however, the rare gift of performing his arduous duties without apparent effort. No one ever sees him excited or irritable. To look at him, or speak to him, you would think him a gentleman of absolute leisure, utterly free from all care or responsibility. Yet no detail escapes his eye, and every requirement of the hotel commands his personal attention. It must not be forgotten, however, that Mr. Sharon has the advantage of an invaluable aid and lieutenant in the person of Mr. George H. Smith, the chief clerk. This gentleman is in many ways a remarkable man. Of all the qualifications required by one in his position, a good memory for names and faces is, perhaps, the most important. Mr. Smith’s memory is almost supernatural. A guest may stay at the Palace for a night and not appear there again for years; but, for all that, the moment he re-enters the office, Mr. Smith will great him by his name, converse with him on incidents which occurred during his former visit, and make him feel as if he had come back among friends, who had been thinking of nothing but him ever since he left San Francisco. Mr. Smith is also one of the most accomplished linguists we have ever known. Where the management is so excellent and efficient, it follows, as a matter of course, that the army of subordinates is well disciplined and composed of picked men. Consequently, every joint of the complicated machinery required to run so vast an establishment works to perfection, and complaints are never heard.
San Francisco is justly proud of her great hotel, the Palace, and has for many years admired its beautiful neighbor, the Grand. The union of the two is, therefore, an event of no slight importance, and one which we are sure will prove as advantageous to the enterprising proprietor as to the public at large. The combination presents a hotel on a scale of such immensity and grandeur that henceforward it will be well worthwhile traveling from Europe to California for the sole purpose of seeing it.
San Francisco News Letter and California Advertiser
August 28, 1880