The Joys and Challenges of Renovating the Legendary Fairmont San Francisco

By Trish Donnally Regional PR Director, Gensler | August 07, 2016

Editor notes: Trish Donnally was Director of Public Relations for ForrestPerkins for seven years before becoming Regional PR Director for Gensler in 2017.

After striking silver in Nevada and becoming one of the wealthiest men in the world, James Fair, an ambitious Irish immigrant, aspired to build a palatial residence in San Francisco atop Nob Hill. Almost 40 years later, his daughters, Tessie Fair Oelrichs and Birdie Fair Vanderbilt, decided to build a grand hotel on the "Fair Mount" to honor their late father, who had acquired the premier property decades earlier. The hotel was within days of being completed when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the Bay Area on April 18, 1906. Fires that followed ravaged more than 80 percent of the city, including the interiors of the Fairmont, but the grand marble and white granite shell survived, standing high on the hill as a beacon of hope for all of San Francisco. The owners vowed to restore the hotel and open it a year later-which they did.

Fast forward more than a century, a time during which presidents, kings, queens, diplomats, and dignitaries graced the property as guests, the Charter for the United Nations was drafted in 1945, and Tony Bennett sang, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" for the first time in the Venetian Room in 1961. While Fairmont San Francisco had magnificent bones, and she had been redesigned multiple times over the decades, her beauty was fading. ForrestPerkins, an award-winning, international interior design and architecture firm that specializes in luxury hotels, resorts, spas, and multi-residential projects, was trusted with renovating the landmark hotel.

"ForrestPerkins did an impeccable job with this comprehensive renovation of Fairmont San Francisco's 592 guestrooms, including our five stunning Specialty Suites," said Paul Tormey, Regional Vice President and General Manager of Fairmont San Francisco. "Our guests have responded enthusiastically to the fact that we preserved the history of the hotel while providing the modern amenities that today's travelers need and expect. The hotel continues to serve as the benchmark of sophisticated San Francisco style."

Bree Dahl, Principal of ForrestPerkins, said, "It's been a real pleasure to be involved in the interior design of such an iconic property. The grandeur and history of the hotel have dictated the direction of the renovation work completed. It was important for us that the spirit and integrity of the property were maintained, but that the design also addresses the needs of a modern day traveler."

During the multi-phased project, ForrestPerkins encountered surprises, uncovered secrets, and met design challenges. Most recently, the firm renovated the Lobby, which was installed within the last few months. Last year, ForrestPerkins completed the renovation of the guestrooms, including five Specialty Suites, and the corridors. The journey continues. ForrestPerkins, which merged with international architecture and design firm Perkins Eastman (no relation) on January 1, 2016, will work with Fairmont San Francisco on additional capital expenditure renovations in public spaces this year and next.

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Coming up in January 2019...

Mobile Technology: The Future is Now

Mobile Technology continues to advance at a relentless pace and the hotel industry continues to adapt. Hotel guests have shown a strong preference for mobile self-service - from checking-in/out at a hotel kiosk, to ordering room service, making dinner reservations, booking spa treatments, and managing laundry/dry cleaning services. And they also enjoy the convenience of paying for these services with smart phone mobile payments. In addition, some hotels have adopted a “concierge in your pocket” concept. Through a proprietary hotel app, guests can access useful information such as local entertainment venues, tourist attractions, event calendars, and medical facilities and services. In-room entertainment continues to be a key factor, as guests insist on the capacity to plug in their own mobile devices to customize their entertainment choices. Mobile technology also allows for greater marketing opportunities. For example, many hotels have adopted the use of “push notifications” - sending promotions, discounts and special event messages to guests based on their property location, purchase history, profiles, etc. Near field communication (NFC) technology is also being utilized to support applications such as opening room doors, earning loyalty points, renting a bike, accessing a rental car, and more. Finally, some hotels have adopted more futuristic technology. Robots are in use that have the ability to move between floors to deliver room service requests for all kinds of items - food, beverages, towels, toothbrushes, chargers and snacks. And infrared scanners are being used by housekeeping staff that can detect body heat within a room, alerting staff that the room is occupied and they should come back at a later time. The January Hotel Business Review will report on what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in this exciting mobile technology space.