The Joys and Challenges of Renovating the Legendary Fairmont San Francisco

By Trish Donnally Public Relations Manager, Perkins Eastman | 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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