The Westin St Francis is located in the heart of San Francisco’s Union Square. Among the hustle and hubbub of San Francisco’s shopping district you will find the historic hotel.
At the turn of the century, the guardians of Charles Crocker, a railroad magnate who had built the western portion of the transcontinental railway, announced plans to build the St. Francis. Originally meant to be called The Crocker Hotel, the hotel instead took the name of one of the earliest San Francisco Gold Rush hotel, the St. Francis. Two years and $2.5 million later, on March 21, 1904, the doors of The St. Francis opened.
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. In the years since 1904, The Westin St Francis has been home to many celebrities including Helen Keller, President Theodore Roosevelt, President Woodrow Wilson, Charlie Chaplain, Salvador Dalí posed for newspaper photographers in the bathtub of his hotel room, with a lobster on his head, holding a cabbage in one hand, and wearing a pair of emerald-green goggles. Although many celebrities of past have stayed at the Westin St Francis, I can’t imagine any modern day celebrities choosing the hotel over the other modern and more stylish hotels in the area.
- The Great Earthquake of 1906 did not cause major structural damage to the hotel, but it did begin a series of massive fires. An hour after midnight the fire reached Union Square and gutted the hotel. A small temporary hotel, the Little St. Francis, with 110 rooms, was built in the middle of Union Square, to house temporary guests. The Square is known as Little St Francis for that reason. The hotel re-opened in late 1907
- A third wing opened in 1908, making The St. Francis the largest hotel on the Pacific Coast.
- Construction of the 32-story Pacific Tower began early in 1969 and opened a year later. It added a new tower of guest rooms, suites, and conference facilities.
- Beginning in November 2009 Unite Here Local 2, representing San Francisco hotel workers, asked the public to boycott the Westin St. Francis Hotel because the hotel’s owner, Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide had not renewed a previously settled contract with workers with respect to wages, benefits, and working conditions. The hotel was one of eight in San Francisco being boycotted, and was scene to many protests including picketing and even a flash mob.
The hotel is distinctive for a historic lobby master clock, the first in the Western United States, and celebrity chef Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steakhouse. The hotel is made of two buildings, the Landmark Building – which conjures the grandeur of the original St. Francis hotel and has 629 guest rooms, 18 Classic suites, and 5 Parkview suites overlooking Union Square. The Tower Building is a contemporary tower that is one of San Francisco’s tallest. The tower building has five glass elevators leading to 566 guest rooms, six specialty suites, and 29 executive suites.
I stayed in the Tower Building in an executive suite. I used 2 Starwood Suite Night Awards to ensure I would have a suite with a view of the bay for the 4th of July fireworks. The room was on the 23rd floor and did indeed have an amazing view of the city and bay. The rooms had huge bay windows that offered spectacular views from all sides. The room had a bedroom and living room connected by a door. The rooms were dated looking and in need of refurbishment. There was faded wall paper, scuffed base-boards and tired looking furnishings. The bathrooms were large and had a combine bathtub/shower surrounded by marble tile. It was nice that the suite had two bathrooms. In the living room, there was a desk, chaise lounge chair, and a pull down murphy bed. Both rooms had large screen TVs.
The rooms were good sized, but really needed to be updated and modernized with furnishings and decor.
My check-in experience as not smooth. I arrived after a long day of flight delays and at 8:30pm PST was ready for a quick dinner and some sleep. Upon checking in, I learned that the bedroom portion of my room was not ready and would be ready in about 1 hour or 9:30pm PST (12:30 EST – so pretty much way past my bed time.) I decided to store my bags and grab some dinner at Chef Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steakhouse. After I ate, I made my way back to check-in and found that my room was ready. Upon arriving in my room, I had a message from the front desk manager apologizing for the delay and indicating that there was some mix-up and the room had actually been ready all along. In any case, I was just happy to be in the room.
I sat at the bar for dinner and enjoyed a great Bourbon Steak Burger with caramelized onions and Nicasio Valley Reserve Cheese. It was really, really good. It came with a side of the most delicious french fries that were seasoned perfectly. The restaurant and bar is dark and noisy but offers an amazing menu and selection of drinks. I think that the menu is a bit over-priced (as compared with other celebrity chef restaurants in LA or NY.) The burger was $22, a petite Caesar salad was $15, the Short Ribs were $49 dollars and the 8oz Angus beef fillet was $55. Each side dish was $10.
The hotel provided a letter to guests, including myself, warning about labor demonstrations occuring in front of the hotel. The letter stated that the Westin St Francis was not involved in the labor dispute and the protesters website does not list the Westin St Francis as one of the hotels being boycotted, but sure enough, they were out front at 7am sharp with megaphones in hand. The hotel offered ear plugs free of charge to guests upon request. I probably should have taken them up on the offer – even on the 23rd floor the noise and sound of the protest was pretty disturbing.
The hotel has a Westin Workout and Spa with fitness center, steam room, showers, relaxation room that is open from 5am to 5pm daily. The lobby has a variety of shops for guests to browse in addition to the hotels other restaurants The Oak Room, Caruso’s lobby bar (coffee and snacks) and the Clock Bar/Lounge.
Setting aside the unpleasant check-in experience- because those things happen, I can’t imagine I would choose to stay at the hotel again. While the location is great – I spent the day walking around Union Square and visiting all of the great shopping – the rooms are old and dated and in the end, I prefer a more modern and contemporary hotel.