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

Designers: Gaynor, John P., Architect (firm); John Plant Gaynor (architect)

Dates: constructed 1875, demolished 1906

7 stories

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633 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94105-4006

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The address was listed as 633-635 Market Street.

Building History

Completed in 1875, the Palace Hotel #1 embodied the ambitions and tastes of its prime investor, banker William Chapman Ralston (1826-1875). (Ralston, along with banker Darius Ogden Mills [1825-1910], Wells Fargo and Company Express President Louis McLane, Jr., [1819-1905] and lawyer/real estate investor William Sharon [1821-1885], opened the Bank of California in 1864.) Ralston became obsessed with building a massive and unprecedented luxury hotel with 755 guest rooms--each a 20 foot square with 15-foot ceilings--and 45 other meeting and utility spaces; it reportedly cost $5 million to erect and furnish, contributing to Ralston's bankruptcy and suspicious death in 1875. (Two months after his death by drowning, the Palace Hotel opened on 10/02/1875.) Ralston's assets were obtained cheaply by his associate in the Bank of California, William Sharon, including the just-completed Palace Hotel. Ralston sought out the most technologically experimental architect he could find to build his state-of-the-art hotel. New York architect John P. Gaynor --creator of the technologically-advanced Haughwout Emporium Building (New York, NY, 1857). The Haughwout Building contained the first elevator designed by Elisha Graves Otis (1811-1861) and cast-iron facade components produced by Daniel D. Badger's (1806–1884) Architectural Iron Works. Gaynor designed the hotel, with its 804 fireplaces, 7,000 windows, five banks of redwood-paneled "rising rooms" (elevators) and air-conditioning system. Writer Charles A. Fracchia inventoried the wonders of the Palace: "It was intended to be the height of luxury and to contain the newest technologies. It had five hydraulic elevators (reputedly the first in the West), electric call buttons in each room, plumbing and private toilets, shared baths every two rooms, closets, telegraph for staff on each floor, a pneumatic tube system throughout the hotel, air-conditioning in each room, and fireplaces and bay windows in each room." (See Charles A. Fracchia, "Palace Hotel,"Accessed 03/14/2013.) Ralston also knew of San Francisco's earthquake and fire dangers so he took the unusual step (for the time) of specifying steel reinforcing and rechanneling four artesian wells into a reservoir capable of storing 630,000 gallons of groundwater. Unfortunately, during the Great Earthquake of 04/18/1906, firefighters used all of this water (and an additional seven roof tanks containing 130,000 gallons) and still could not save the Palace.

Building Notes

A massive cube undulating with steep oriel shafts, the first Palace Hotel occupied an entire San Francisco city block located at the prime Market and Geary Street intersection. It rose 7 stories high, its main facades topped by a series of 3 separate, mansard roofs. Iron widow's walks trimmed each mansard top. Above the first floor, the main Market Street facade contained a monotonous row of 16 bay-windows, each visually forming a column 6-stories tall. A projecting portico covered the main entry. Retail spaces, lit by tall banks of windows, occupied most of the first-floor street frontage. Iron trusses supported a glass roof covering the Grand Court, a circular carriage drop-off point located around a quatrefoil basin and its fountain. Hallways of each floor opened onto this extraordinary atrium. The central carriage stop was removed just after 1900 to create a lounge, the famous "Palm Court." (After fire destroyed this first hotel, the grand court [as a dining area] was reproduced in the succeeding hotel.)

King Kalakaua of Hawaii, David Laʻamea Kamanakapuʻu Mahinulani Nalaiaehuokalani Lumialani Kalākaua, (1836-1891), the island kingdom's last king, passed away in the Palace Hotel #1 in 1891. Following the Bayonet Revolution of 1887, an event turning the islands into a constitutional monarchy, Kalakaua's health began to fail. He traveled to San Francisco seeking medical care but died on 01/20/1891. His sister, Liliʻuokalani, took the throne as Kalakaua died without issue. The tiny Saint Patrick's Church #1 occupied a portion of the site later used for the Palace Hotel #1; it was moved to a site on Eddy Street between Laguna and Octavia Streets for use of the Saint John the Baptist Parish.


A second-story corridor (now called a "sky bridge") spanned Annie Street connecting the Palace Hotel with a neighbor c. 1895.


The first Palace Hotel perished in the San Francisco Fire following the Great Earthquake of 04/18/1906; a postcard, printed in Germany just after April 1906, illustrated the remains of the Palace Hotel, Monadnock, Examiner and Call Buildings.

PCAD id: 993