In 2014, I attended the San Francisco Writer’s Conference for the first time and I have returned every year since. It never disappoints and is always an amazing experience. In addition to the numerous informative workshops, lively panels, and opportunities to network with fellow writers and esteemed professionals, the conference is held at the beautiful Mark Hopkins Hotel in the Nob Hill area. Heaven for a history enthusiast who loves to travel back in time.
From the site Historical Hotels of America: “The Mark Hopkins Hotel was and continues to be part of San Francisco’s rich and colorful history. Royalty, statesmen, political personalities and celebrities with backgrounds as diverse as the places they come from have stayed at the Mark Hopkins since it opened, including five American presidents and heads of state from around the world. Locals and visitors alike come to visit the Top of the Mark, the 19th-floor sky-lounge atop the hotel, with its panoramic views of the ever-changing San Francisco Bay Area landscape.” (http://www.historichotels.org/hotels-resorts/intercontinental-mark-hopkins-hotel/history.php)
Many celebrities and politicians have visited and continue to visit the Mark Hopkins Hotel. While here last year for the conference, my critique parter and I made use of the elegant Nob Hill Club Restaurant in the hotel to work on our manuscripts. Immersed in our novels with our heads bent over our computers, we became distracted when Governor Jerry Brown came into the restaurant and sat with a colleague at the table next to us. In the past, the Mark Hopkins’ guests have included US. Presidents, statesman, international royalty, and Hollywood celebrities. The history page on the hotel’s website mentions a frequent guest long ago, the actor John Barrymore, who often brought his pet monkey, Clementine. “Clementine was less welcome at the hotel after she climbed the curtains in Barrymore’s suite, shredding the brocade as she went.” (http://www.intercontinentalmarkhopkins.com/history.aspx)
The history of the hotel is as fascinating as its guests. One of four founders of the Central Pacific railroad, Mark Hopkins dreamed of building his wife Mary a grand home. When he saw the panoramic views atop the Nob Hill area, he’d found the ideal location. He built a 40 room gothic beauty which he named “Hotel de Hopkins.” The mansion was indeed grand, complete with spires and gables and one of the largest in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, he died before its completion in 1878.
Shortly after her husband’s death, Mary become enamored with Edward T. Searles, an interior designer from the East coast, thirty years her junior. The two married and moved into the mansion upon its completion. Their bliss was not to last and Mary died in 1891. She left the $70 million estate to Searles. Two years later, he donated “Hotel de Hopkins” to the San Francisco Art Association and they converted the palace-like mansion into a school and museum.
In 1906, the epic San Francisco earthquake demolished many of the beautiful historic buildings in the Nob Hill area. The Hopkins mansion survived only to be destroyed by fires caused by the quake. All that remained were the chimney stacks, the granite retaining wall and a 500,000 gallon cistern full of water. With the remaining solid foundation, the Art Association reconstructed a more modest building on the site.
In 1925, George D. Smith, a mining engineer and hotel investor purchased the Art Association building and then demolished it. He had grander plans for the panoramic hill top area. He built a large, luxurious hotel combining French and Spanish aesthetics and he graciously named it after the original site owner, Mark Hopkins.
In December of 1926, the Mark Hopkins Hotel held it’s grand opening to the delight of San Franciscans who were immensely proud of its architectural perfection and luxurious accommodations. At the time and still today, the hotel is seen as representative of the best there is in modern hostelry.
A trip to San Francisco is not complete without a visit to The Mark Hopkins Hotel. While I enjoy visiting the city itself, and participating in this comprehensive and worthwhile conference, the experience is made all the richer by enjoying the timeless elegance of this stately hotel.