Reading Room

History of "The Garden Court"

To the walls and corridors of this hotel, ceilings a tradition … a tradition of elegant hospitality.

For this The Palace has been known the world over for a century, ever since that evening, October 1875, when at its first important social event, two hundred of California’s leading citizens lifted their crystal champagne glasses over a banquet table in a toast to their guest of honor, Lieutenant General Philip H. Sheridan.

There used to be, in the days before the Fire and Earthquake of 1906, a symbol of this elegance and hospitality; The Palace’s Grand Court, which faced the hotel’s main entrance on New Montgomery Street. In the murals which decorate this room, Antonio Sotomayor has captured with impressive charm and taste the feeling of that great inner court.

The arriving guest in the house those days, when his horse-drawn hack or carriage clattered off the street and through the arched entrance of the Grand Court, must have reflected that this hotel has been appropriately named, for the vast room in which he found himself was, on the four sides, balconies, relieved the repetitive pattern of the paired Doric columns. By day the light came softly through the roof of glass, and by night, hundreds of flaring gas jets brilliantly illuminated the courtyard and each of its seven pillared stories.

Over the years, the Grand Court was an impressive setting for a colorful and never-ending pageant that helped to make San Francisco one of the most cosmopolitan cities on earth. Out of the hacks and barouches and phaetons and gold fitted landaus and onto the marble flags of the court stepped Presidents and princes, poets and prelates, millionaires and generals, countesses and grandes dames of the American social world, and the greatest stage and operatic personalities of the area.

The names comprise and imposing list: Dom Pedtro II, Emperor of Brazil; King David Kalakaua, the last monarch of the Sandwich Islands; General Ulysses S. Grant; Rudyyard Kipling and Oscar Wilde; Presidents Hays, Harrison, McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt and Taft; John D. Rockeffeller and J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie; Emma Nevada, Sagebush Linnet; Adlina Patti, the greatest operatic soprano of her time; Lily Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt; Henry Irving and Ellen Terry; Ignace Paderewski and Lilian Russel and her $10,000 Japanese Spaniel; Enrica Caruso and a thousand others who visited San Francisco in those years and for a time were glamorous participants in the San Francisco Pageant.

The disaster of 1906 destroyed the old Palace and toppled the graceful pillars of the Grand Court. But like the rest of the city it rose again, on the corner and on this block where it has always stood. Architecturally, it was not the same hotel. But the traditions of the old one seemed at home in the new courts and corridors, and beneath the new columns. You can see it anywhere, for it is still here, adding its warmth and depth to San Francisco’s Heritage.


Facts About The Garden Court
Called the Grand Court (1875
7 Palm Court (1909)


Considered one of the largest public rooms in the world – 8,000 Square Feet 110’ x 85’

The Garden Court was designed Official San Francisco Historical Landmark #18 in 1969; the rest of the Hotel (except SWCorner) was included in the 1980’s.

Originally the carriage entrance in 1875 Hotel and known as “the Grand Court” - Converted into a Lobby Lounge and main restaurant for the hotel in 1909

All Ornament below Cornices is Antiqued 22 Carat Gold Leaf

Skylights on Side Aisles were blacked out during World War II

Musician’s Balcony holds String Quartet during Sunday Brunch

It has been the location of many famous banquets

Domed Ceiling:
- Approximately 63,000 pieces of Iridescent Glass
- 7,000 pieces in surrounding Panels and Windows – 70,000 piece ceiling
- 12,000 Square Feet – One of the largest expanses of Stained Glass in the World
- Ceiling allows filtered sun through and creates an amber glow over the room
- Its valued at over $7 + million
- 60-65% of glass is original; 35-30% is custom made replacement
- Replacement glass came from the glass company which probably supplied original
- The original leading replaced, installed bet. Ceiling & protective canopy ceiling
- Each panel held in suspension to avoid slipping & falling
- $1.5 Million for restoration (restored by Refection Studio in Emeryville)

Chandeliers:
- Never before removed for cleaning or restoration prior to 1989
- Value $75,000 for the large ones, $50,000 for smaller ones
- There are 10 large and 10 smaller – made of Austrian Crystal
- 4 Chandeliers line up on each side and one in the middle of each end
- The large Chandeliers are approximately 6 feet tall and weigh 750 pounds

Click here to return to "What's New"

Updated: Monday, April 04, 2011