More Nob Hill

Brocklebank Apartments
Weeks & Day, architects 1926

Hitchcock fans may recognize this apartment building. In Vertigo, Jimmy Stewart waits outside this building to  follow Kim Novak as she drives out in her Jaguar. While many San Francisco buildings have trned into condos, the Brocklebank remains under rent control.  This means rents stay low and it can’t go condo. It also means that residents rarely move out. The smaller Park Lane apartment building across Mason at 1100 Sacramento, also rent controlled, sold for $38 million in 2005, about $1.2 million for each of its 33 apartments. Enjoy the amazing view down Mason Street –it’s free.

Fairmont Hotel
Reid Brothers, architects  1903 
Julia Morgan, reconstruction 1907
Mario Gaidano, tower addition 1962

In 1902, when two daughters of Silver Bonanza King James Fair began construction of this hotel, they may have hoped to rehabilitate their family name. Theresa Fair Oehlrichs and Virgina Fair Vanderbilt, both married into wealthy, socially prominent families, but that was no thanks to their father. James Fair had divorced their mother and disgraced the family by having a series of very public affairs with working women. And when he died, he left a huge legal mess that involved two conflicting handwritten wills and two women claiming to be his wife.

Construction went on for four years, and shortly before the new hotel was to open, the sisters sold it to brothers Herbert and Hanford Law. Just two weeks later, the hotel was gutted by fire caused by the 1906 Earthquake. Only the gray granite walls remained.

The Law brothers hired architect Julia Morgan to rebuild the hotel which was opened in 1907, exactly one year after the disaster.. It quickly became a social hub of the city, hosting celebrity guests and events.

In 1929 George Smith, owner of the Mark Hopkins Hotel, purchased the Fairmont and added a swimming pool, a novelty for hotels at that time. He also hired noted Art Deco architect Timothy Pflueger to design the Cirque Lounge with its distinctive wrap around bar.

By the 1940s, the hotel was in decline when it was bought by  investor and philanthropist Ben Swig. He hired celebrity decorator Dorothy Draper to redo the interior in the style of a Venetian palace, in heavy reds and golds. Most of Draper’s design work was removed in later renovations which are close to the  original design.

In 1947, Swig opened the Venetian Room as a nightclub, offering big name entertainers like as Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr., and of course Tony Bennet, who sang “I Left My Heart..” for the first time here in 1962.

Photo courtesy:  San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Visit after the Tour
Cable Car Museum
120 Mason Street

Just two blocks down Mason Street toward the Bay, the Cable Car Museum provides a look into the inner workings of the cable cars and their history. See the mechanism that keeps the cables moving underground and take a self-guided tour of  historic photographs and artifacts, including three complete cable cars from the 1870s.

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