San Francisco‘s Fairmont Hotel is an iconic landmark that has been a part of the city’s skyline for over a century. The hotel has hosted several famous guests and events throughout its history, and it has undergone several restoration projects to maintain its historical significance and structural integrity. The restoration timeline of the Fairmont Hotel reflects the dedication and care taken to preserve this important piece of San Francisco’s history for future generations to enjoy.

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Exterior Perspective_©Fairmont Hotel Gallery

The Fairmont Hotel: A History of San Francisco’s Iconic Landmark

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Old Image_©Fairmont Hotel Gallery

The Fairmont Hotel has a fascinating history that began in 1903 when sisters Theresa Fair Oelrichs and Virginia Fair Vanderbilt decided to build a boutique hotel in honor of their father, Senator James Graham Fair. After being destroyed in the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, the sisters hired architect Julia Morgan to rebuild the hotel, which reopened exactly one year later. In the following decades, the Fairmont Hotel underwent a cultural renaissance under the ownership of Benjamin Swig, who hired interior decorator Dorothy Draper to redesign the space to reflect the ambience of a Venetian palace.

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Rooftop Garden_©Fairmont Hotel Gallery

During this time, the refurbished Venetian Room became San Francisco’s premier Supper Club, attracting big-name entertainers like Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, and Marlene Dietrich, and becoming famous as the place where Tony Bennett first sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in 1961. The Cirque Room, the first bar to open in San Francisco following Prohibition, was also located inside the Fairmont and decorated in beautiful Art-Deco style with murals by the celebrated Bruton sisters. The Fairmont Hotel played host to numerous famous people and events, including the drafting and signing of the Charter establishing the United Nations in the Garden Room and fundraising events for the San Francisco Council on Religion and the Homosexual, which promoted acceptance and understanding of the LGBT community in the city.

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The Tonga Room_©Fairmont Hotel Gallery

In 1961, the Fairmont Hotel underwent another transformation with the opening of the 29-story tower Mario Gaidano designed it. A recent $85 million restoration elevated the entire location to its present-day status as one of San Francisco’s most fabulous destinations. Today, the Fairmont Hotel continues to entertain patrons similarly since its founding over a century ago. It is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

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Fairmont Hotel Exterior Perspective 2_©Fairmont Hotel Gallery

Planning the Restoration: Challenges and Opportunities Faced by the Restoration Team

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Fairmont Hotel Lobby_©Fairmont Hotel Gallery

One of the latest major restoration projects at the Fairmont Hotel took place from 2006 to 2012, and the restoration team faced several challenges during the planning phase. These included assessing the condition of the terracotta and granite facade and wood windows, identifying areas that required repair, and determining the best restoration techniques. One of the most significant challenges was that the hotel remained fully operational throughout the project. The team had to work around the hotel’s schedule to minimise disruption to guests and staff while coordinating with hotel management to ensure effective communication.

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Penthouse Suite Hallway_©Fairmont Hotel Gallery

The restoration team also had to ensure that all work complied with local regulations and codes. This included obtaining necessary permits and approvals, adhering to safety guidelines, and addressing any environmental concerns. However, the planning phase allowed the team to carefully evaluate the building’s condition and develop a comprehensive plan to restore it to its original state. By working closely with the hotel and other project partners, such as Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, Inc. and Devcon Construction, the team minimised disruption and ensured a successful restoration project. The restoration of the Fairmont Hotel aimed to preserve the hotel’s historic character while making necessary updates to keep up with modern standards.

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Penthouse Suite Balcony View_©Fairmont Hotel Gallery

Restoring the Past: Methods and Techniques Used to Bring Fairmont Hotel Back to Life

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Fairmont Hotel Dining Area_©Fairmont Hotel Gallery

The Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco has undergone several restoration projects to preserve its historic character while keeping up with modern standards. The most significant restoration project took place from 1998 to 2002, with a budget of $85 million, which focused on seismic upgrades, restoration of original architectural details, and modernisation of guest rooms and amenities. The restoration was successful and considered the most significant in the hotel’s history.

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Ornamented Billiards Room_©Fairmont Hotel Gallery

Another significant restoration project for the Fairmont Hotel occurred from 2006 to 2012, focusing on the building’s exterior. The restoration team employed various methods and techniques to restore the building’s terra cotta, granite façade, and wood windows. Despite challenges, such as ensuring the hotel remained fully operational during the restoration period, the team successfully preserved the historic character of the Fairmont Hotel’s exterior while updating it to meet modern standards. For instance, they used helical anchors to pin the terra cotta blocks in place, stabilised the structure, cleaned and coated the terracotta spalling, and performed cleaning, joint repointing, and minor spall repairs on the granite exterior.

The Fairmont Hotel: The Timeless Beauty of Restored Landmarks

Roof Garden Closeup_©Fairmont Hotel Gallery

The Fairmont San Francisco Hotel has a rich history and has changed ownership several times. Today, it is part of the Fairmont Raffles Hotel International group but has retained its original name. The hotel was purchased for $200 million by Oaktree Capital Management, L.P. and Woodridge Capital Partners LLC in 2012. The new owners immediately began planning a major renovation of the hotel and its facilities, costing between $15 million and $20 million.

Fairmont Hotel Exterior Perspective 3_©Fairmont Hotel Gallery

The Fairmont San Francisco Hotel is an important landmark and a symbol of the city’s rich history. The restoration and ongoing renovation of the hotel are significant for preserving its historical character and ensuring it remains a beloved and luxurious destination for visitors from around the world. It serves as a reminder of the importance of historic preservation efforts and their role in shaping the understanding of the past and humanity’s vision for the future.

San Francisco Bay View from Fairmont_©Fairmont Hotel Gallery


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S, an architecture student, strives for innovative designs that inspire and enhance communities. Focused on sustainability and well-being, she aims to bring bold ideas to life through a deep understanding of architecture.