Structure Type: built works - dwellings -public accommodations - hotels

Designers: Draper, Dorothy, Interior Designer (firm); Gaidano, Mario, Architect (firm); Halprin, Lawrence and Associates, Landscape Architects (firm); Miller and Pflueger, Architects (firm); Morgan, Julia H., Architect (firm); Reid Brothers, Architects (firm); Robinson, Mills and Williams (RMW), A.I.A., Architects (firm); V.B. Designs (firm); Wilson and Associates (firm); Jerry Beale (architect); Dorothy Draper (interior designer); Mario Gaidano (architect); Lawrence Halprin (landscape architect); Mel Melvin (interior designer/scenic designer); James Rupert Miller (architect); Matthew Richard Mills (architect); Julia H. Morgan (architect); Timothy Ludwig Pflueger (architect); James William Reid (architect); Merritt Jonathan Reid (architect); Frank D. Robinson (architect); David Williams (architect); Trisha Wilson (interior designer)

Dates: constructed 1902-1907

29 stories

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950 Mason Street
Nob Hill, San Francisco, CA 94108

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The Fairmont Hotel occupied the northeast corner of Mason Street and California Street.

Building History

Sisters Tessie Fair Oelrichs (1871-1926) and Virginia Fair Vanderbilt (1875-1935), began construction of the Fairmont Hotel in 1902; they built the Fairmont in honor of their father, the mining capitalist, James Graham Fair (12/03/1831-12/28/1894), who made a fortune mining silver and gold in Nevada's Comstock Lode during the 1860s; the cost of building the lavish hotel became too much for the Fairs and they traded properties with the brothers, Herbert E. and Hartland Law, just before the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 04/18/1906. (In exchange, the Fairs received two office buildings located on Mission Street and New Montgomery Street in San Francisco).

The earthquake and subsequent fire destroyed the just-completed hotel, and so the Laws went about selecting a new architect; their first choice was the renowned Stanford White (1853-1906), of the pre-eminent New York firm of McKim, Mead and White; White was shot by the Pittsburgh millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw (1871-1947) before his work could begin, however, so the Laws looked elsewhere. They settled on an unusual choice, the pioneering woman architect, Julia Morgan (1872-1957). Morgan's remodeled Fairmont design opened a year after the cataclysmic San Francisco Earthquake on 04/18/1907; ownership passed back to one of the Fair sisters, Tessie Oelrichs, in 05/1908, and then to the hotelier D.M. Linnard in late 10/1922. (See "D.M. Linnard Buys the Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco," The Hotel World, vol. 95, no. 19, 11/04/1922. p. 14.)

Linnard, in turn, sold the Fairmont to the millionaire engineer, George Smith, in 1929; Smith had just built the neighboring Mark Hopkins Hotel. Linnard re-purchased the Fairmont from Smith in 1941. Benjamin H. Swig bought the Fairmont in 1945, the first property in the Fairmont chain of luxury hotels;

Building Notes

Because of her previous experience building fire-resistant structures, architect Julia Morgan may have been selected to restore the Fairmont after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire. Morgan's biographer, Sara Boutelle, has noted: "Possibly because the reinforced concrete Mills Campanile withstood the 1906 earthquake, J.M. [Julia Morgan] was given the commission to rebuild the structurally damaged Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. From this point on her reputation was made." (See Sara Holmes Boutelle, "Julia Morgan," in Women in American Architecture: A Historic and Contemporary Perspective, [New York, NY: 1977], p.80.)

An ad for the hotel in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer indicated that the hotel had "600 rooms. Every room has bath." (See Fairmont Hotel ad, Seattle Post-Intelligencer,05/15/1909, p. 3.) This was quite unusual for a hotel to have a 1:1 ration of rooms and baths. In 2008, the Fairmont contained 591 guest rooms and suites.

In 02/2009, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar, a Polynesian-themed lounge designed in 1945 by Hollywood set designer, Mel Melvin, was going to be demolished. This set off a flurry of protest among "tiki bar" aficionados. Melvin redesigned a Fairmont pool space into the noted lounge.


San Francisco architect, Julia Morgan, supervised the Fairmont's restoration after the 04/18/1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire; the interior of the hotel had been gutted and its structure compromised in the calamity; John S. Drum, head of the American Trust Company, commissioned a lavish penthouse on top of the Fairmont in 1926; U.C. Berkeley art history professor, Arthur Upham Pope (1881-1969), designed the Persian-themed apartments; new owner George Smith remodeled the Fairmont after 1929, adding an indoor pool, the famous "Fairmont Plunge." San Francisco architects, Miller and Pflueger, designed the Fairmont's well-known Cirque Room bar c. 1935 with murals executed by the three Bruton Sisters, Esther, Margaret (d. 1983) and Helen (d. 1985); pioneering interior designer, Dorothy Draper (11/22/1889-03/11/1969), supervised a renovation of the hotel interior in 1947; Draper's renovation was best known for its new lobby and remodeling of the Venetian Room supper club. Owner Richard Swig commissioned San Francisco architect, Mario Gaidano, to design a 23-story tower addition that opened in 1961; a glass elevator climbing the hotel's exterior was the tower's most prominent single feature. Landscape architects, Lawrence Halprin and Associates, designed a 72'x 120' roof-garden for this tower. In 1986, a health club, the Nob Hill Club, was designed in the Fairmont by Robinson, Mills and Williams; beginning 05/1999, V.B. Designs and Wilson & Associates collaborated on an $85 million renovation of the lobby and Venetian Room restaurant; Page and Turnbull, Incorporated acted as consulting architects for a renovation that took place c. 2004;

PCAD id: 3313