For a city that’s weathered as many ups and downs (and shakes and quakes) as San Francisco, it’s rare to find a site that’s seen it all and somehow emerged even more beautiful than its original incarnation. The Palace Hotel, however, fits that description to a T.
Originally constructed in 1875, the brainchild of William Chapman Ralston and William Sharon was a technological innovator of the era — telegraph communication in every room! — long before SF became the tech capital of the world. The devastation of the 1906 earthquake sidelined The Palace for three years, after which the hotel reopened its doors to reveal an unprecedented display of opulence that drew visitors from all across the globe. A $170 million restoration in 1989 only upped the ante, cementing the institution’s reputation as the top choice for San Francisco’s most sophisticated soirees and elegant events.
“It’s the most historic property in the city and there’s a lot of emotion attached to it for a lot of people,” says Renee Roberts, the hotel’s public relations representative. “We meet young women and men who came to The Palace with their grandparents when they were children and have always dreamed of getting married there, and then they do. We’ve done weddings for four generations of brides.”
In addition to scores of nuptials, The Palace has played host to an unmatched array of over-the-top, extravagant affairs. Here are just a few:
To celebrate 100 years of resilience, The Palace partnered with the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society and the Chinese Historical Society of America to throw a memorable, throwback-themed fete. “There was a retro dinner from 1906, and we had characters from the period — hired actors playing Mark Twain and Lotta Crabtree and Emperor Norton milling about with the crowd,” Roberts says. “We had a big band and dancing — it was a really fun, fabulous event celebrating the rebirth of the city, as San Francisco came back to life, and The Palace was a huge part of that. Gavin Newsom was the honoree chair, and the host committee was really a who’s who of San Francisco.”
The Palace and
KCBS Radio’s 100-Year Anniversary Gala
A century after unveiling its post-earthquake upgrade, The Palace teamed up with radio station KCBS (which once broadcast from the hotel), to throw a momentous anniversary celebration for more than 1,000 attendees.
“It was an amazing, huge party that occupied the Ralston Ballroom, the Garden Court, the Grand Ballroom and the Regency Foyer,” Roberts says. “We had the Dick Bright Orchestra and a big dance floor, vintage cars on display, historic elements, and live statues in the alcoves of the Garden Court. There were aerialists suspended from the ceiling, multiple bars, different food stations — every room was different.”
Annual Cotillion Ball
The historic rite of passage has always called The Palace home (minus the years it was closed for restoration between 1989 and 1991). “It’s fascinating because it’s such an old tradition,” says Roberts. “It happens close to Christmas and occupies the entire hotel. The girls wear beautiful white dresses and do a formal waltz through the rooms with their escorts. We’re honored that the event takes place at the Palace.”
1991 Reopening Party
Speaking of those aforementioned repairs, The Palace came roaring back to life with — what else? — a lavish blowout.
“Everyone was dressed to the nines,” recalls Roberts. “There was an amazing band, great food and entertainment, but also just the feeling that everyone wanted to see this beautiful icon return the city. People lined up around the block twice to get into the doors. It was amazing.”
Of course, The Palace has continued to host grandiose events in the years since, and the pioneering property continues to remain relevant in the modern era.
“The hotel just renovated all the meeting and event spaces, and all the ballrooms have a new look,” Roberts adds. “There are new interior elements but the historic architecture is all original from 1909. Even people who’ve come for parties and celebrations may come back and discover a new look to The Palace.”