Thursday, March 3, 2011

Castro Theatre.


The Castro Theatre was built in 1922 by the Nasser brothers.  The Castro was built at a cost of $300,000.

Timothy L. Pflueger

The Nasser brothers chose Timothy L. Pflueger (1894-1946) to design the theatre.  Pflueger went on to become a famous Bay Area architect. Pflueger chose an exterior design reminiscent of a Mexican cathedral. 

Example of a Mexican cathedral.

The large windows, the shape of the roof line of the front wall of the building and the plaster wall decorations all combine to convey a look of grandeur in keeping with the large scale of many theatres built in the 1920s. 

Castro Theatre, 1922.

The glazed tile street foyer, ornate tent-like box office and the wooden doors are all from the early 1920s.  The Castro's interior is very diverse. One can sense Spanish, Oriental and Italian influences. The auditorium seats over 1400 in a fantasy setting that is both lavish and intimate. Both side walls of the auditorium are covered with classic motif murals which were created in a wet plaster process called scrafitto. This type of wall decoration is rare.

Interior of the Castro Theatre, 1922.

The mezzanine and balcony above it are reached from the lobby by two dramatic staircases which are highlighted by large mirrors framed in gold. Hanging on the walls of the mezzanine are rare film posters. The mezzanine with its elegant older pieces of furniture is often used for film-related receptions and other parties.


Castro Theatre.

The marquee and vertical neon sign were added in the late 1930s.  On either side of the stage and screen (the small original screen has long ago been replaced with a large screen) are large organ grills.  The Art Deco chandelier dates from 1937 when a small electrical fire destroyed the original parchment fixture.

Interior of the Castro Theatre.

From 1922 until 1976 the Castro showed first and second run mainstream films. Then, in 1976, the theatre was leased to Surf Theatres and later to Blumenfeld Theatres.  These two chains proceeded to change the exhibition format to repertory cinema, foreign films, film festivals and special first run presentations.


In 1982 the theatre's old Conn organ was replaced by a mighty Wurlitzer organ.  Ray Taylor and his sons Dick and Bill began assembling the all-Wurlitzer pipe organ in 1979.  The Taylors had to obtain parts for the organ from many different sources.  For example, the console came from a theatre in Detroit.

2001 - Present.

Interior of the Castro Theatre.

When the last lease expired on July 31, 2001, the Nasser family again took over operation of the theatre. Under their direction substantial improvements were made to enhance and preserve the beauty and functionality of the theatre.
Improvements included the installation of new, larger and more comfortable seats on the main floor and balcony, the stage was expanded to accommodate live performances, a new curtain and a new screen were installed, the entire theatre was recarpeted, the walls were painted and the candy counter was updated.  Additionally, sound quality was improved with installation of new speakers behind the screen.  New stage lighting was installed and the theatre received a new PA system.  The auditorium was wired to accommodate modern audio and video presentations.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Old Vedanta Temple.


The structure is said to be the first Hindu Temple in the Western Hemisphere.  The community’s history reaches back to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and the fair's concurrent World Parliament of Religions. 

Sri Ramakrishna

Swami (teacher) Vivekananda, a disciple of Sri Ramakrishnavisited San Francisco after attending the conference.  His lectures and classes gathered a significant group of students in the Bay Area who formed the Vedanta Society in 1900.

Swami Vivekananda

The Vedanta is a philosophy based on the Upanishads, the final books of the Veda (ancient Indo-Aryan philosophic/religious texts). It is considered the basis of the Hindu religion and embraces the concept that all religions share the same goal, the achievement of spiritual knowledge and oneness with God.


The Old Temple served as the home for what became the Vedanta Society of Northern California. An early pamphlet published by the Society noted that the Temple "may be considered a Hindu temple, a Christian church, a Mohammedan mosque and a Hindu monastery."


In 1904 the San Francisco group purchased the property on Webster Street for $1,800 in order to build its first temple. The neighborhood was still dotted by sandlots, market gardens, and nursery operations.

Joseph A. Leonard

Joseph A. Leonard was chosen as the architect and worked with Swami Trigunathiandaji on the design. The first two floors were completed in 1905. Leonard (1849-1929) was an eclectic architect and developer who delivered a large Edwardian structure with undeniable Queen Anne touches.

The Old Temple.

In 1907-08, Swami Trigunathiandaji explicitly directed the design of an exuberant third floor: five hollow domes and the graceful, lobated arches of the gallery.  The dome that looks down on Webster Street honors Christianity, seen as a European, Western religion.  The corner dome is a double bulb, patterned on that of a Hindu temple in the Bengal region of India.

Hindu Temple in Bengal, India.

The easternmost Filbert Street dome is a two-stage octagon which represents a Shivite temple in India, but is topped with an Islamic crescent that is itself crowned by a trident.

A Shiva temple in India.

The next dome, moving west, is the “Hershey kisses” dome, a miniaturized replica of a temple in Benares (in Uttar Pradesh, India), also reminiscent of the onion domes of Russian Orthodox architecture. 

"Hershey kisses" dome.

The final dome above Filbert Street is a copy of the Moghul architecture of the Taj Mahal.

Taj Mahal.

The Old Vedanta Temple is in good company as a landmark-worthy house of worship and study in its Cow Hollow neighborhood.  The Russian Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral, the English country-style Episcopal St. Mary the Virgin, and the Heidi-Swiss Roman Catholic St. Vincent de Paul churches are all nearby.

1959 - Present.

The "New" Vedanta Temple.

The Vendanta Community used the Old Temple from 1905 to 1959, when the community outgrew the space of the Old Temple.  The “New” Vedanta Temple was dedicated in 1959 at Fillmore and Vallejo Streets, just a few blocks away from the Old Temple.  The Old Temple continues to serve the community as a dormitory, lecture hall, and site of classrooms. Tours of the Old Temple are not available to the public, although architecture students are sometimes given access.

The Fairmont. 1947-Present.


Soon after Benjamin Swig purchased The Fairmont, people planning on taking a dip in the 'Fairmont Plunge' were startled to find themselves aboard the 'S.S. Tonga,' which provided a 'ship-shape' atmosphere, along with exotic drinks accompanied by Chinese food.  

Tonga Room.

The S.S. Tonga was replaced by the Tonga Room, with its musical boat in the middle of the pool, tiki huts under which patrons can enjoy a refreshing Mai-Tai, and an exotic menu reflecting the South Sea & Asian ambiance.  

Tonga Room.

A gleaming dance floor provides space for guests to dance; little do they realize that it was originally the deck of the S.S. Forrester, one of the last of the tall ships that plied the route between San Francisco and the South Sea Islands.

Another exciting room in the Fairmont was the Cirque Room, which was the first bar to open in San Francisco following prohibition.

Cirque Room.

 It was decorated by architect Tim Pflueger in a beautiful Art Deco style with an incredible bar, and murals by the celebrated Bruton sisters. Before the Venetian Room was opened, the Cirque was the place to go for entertainment in the City.


Crown Room.

In November of 1961 another section of The Fairmont was opened; the 23 story Tower, designed by Mario Gaidano, San Francisco's first glass elevator carries people to the Crown Room at the top of the tower, with San Francisco's most beautiful view. 

View from Crown Room.


As the San Francisco residence for every U.S. president since William Howard Taft, The Fairmont garnered a reputation for world-class hospitality.  As the Fairmont's reputation grew, so did its collection of grand hotels bearing its name.  In 1999, Fairmont Hotels merged with Canadian Pacific Hotels to form Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, the largest operator of luxury hotels and resorts in North America.

The Fairmont, 1999.

As the company's flagship property, The Fairmont San Francisco at Nob Hill once again made history when it greeted the 21st century with an award-winning $85 million restoration.  In May of 1999, legions of craftsmen checked into the San Francisco landmark to recreate architect Julia Morgan's vision for the 1907 hotel.  Comparing the project to an archeological dig, the restoration team uncovered original marble floors, ornate domes and intricate design work throughout the historic hotel.

Main Lobby.

Along with the restoration was the re-emergence of the Main Lobby as a grand public space.  Dorothy Draper's decor of 1945 has been stripped away to reveal pristine marble floors and Corinthian columns trimmed in gold.

Laurel Court.

After more than six decades of closure, The Laurel Court has been restored to its original design and once again functions as the hotel's main dining room and bar. Crowned by three domes, The Laurel Court serves breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner on the hotel's lobby level.


The Fairmont, Present.

The hotel's 591 guest rooms and suites, including the famed Penthouse Suite, have been luxuriously refurbished.  Marble baths and picture windows are complemented by business amenities such as two-line telephone systems and high-speed Internet access in every guestroom.

The Fairmont. 1906-1947.


The Fairmont, 1906.

The earthquake of 1906 hits San Francisco - just two weeks before the opening of San Francisco's first luxury hotel.

The Fairmont remarkably remained relatively unharmed, save the damage to it's structure on the interior.  However, when the earthquake had finished, it was not the end of the devastation.  Twenty-four hours after the earthquake, the fires of San Francisco finally reached the top of Nob Hill.  The mansions of Hopkins, Stanford, Huntington and Crocker all fell victim to the fire.  At 5:30 AM, the Fairmont's windows began to crack from the heat.  

Still intact, The Fairmont sits atop Nob Hill.

Writer Gertrude Atherton was crossing the Bay at the time and notes, 'I forgot the doomed city as I gazed at The Fairmont, a tremendous volume of white smoke pouring from the roof, every window a shimmering sheet of gold; not a flame, nor a spark shot forth. The Fairmont will never be as demonic in its beauty again.'

Julia Morgan.

Herbert and Hartland Law, the owners of The Fairmont at the time,  began the process to repair, redecorate and where necessary restore the hotel.  The Law brothers chose Julia Morgan, who would later rise to be known as the nation's preeminent female architect.  The first woman graduate of the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, Julia Morgan was just starting out as an architect when she was commissioned to work on The Fairmont.


The Fairmont, 1907.

Exactly a year after the earthquake, a grand banquet celebrating the opening was held at The Fairmont, with 600 pounds of turtle, 13,000 oysters and $5,000 worth of California and French wines. At precisely 9:00 PM, fireworks began, illuminating the beautiful new Fairmont, the thousand ships at anchor in the Bay, City Hall and all the buildings that had risen up, phoenix-like, in defiance of nature's wrath.

The Fairmont quickly became the social hub of the City.  Wealthy families, displaced by the earthquake, took up residence inside the hotel, some for many years.  Meanwhile, the Law brothers had signed a ten year deal for the Palace Hotel company to manage The Fairmont.  Not too many months later, a familiar figure came back to town on a mystery mission. 


Tessie (Fair) Oelrichs.

Tessie (Fair) Oelrichs returned to her beloved city of San Francisco.  By May of 1908, she became the owner and hostess of San Francisco's most famous hotel.  She welcomed Teddy Roosevelt, President Taft, and even Rudolph Valentino.  By 1917, D.M. Linnard took over the management, and in 1924, bought the controlling interest from the Oelrichs family.  Linnard had a chain of hotels in California.  In 1929, he sold the Fairmont to George Smith, a mining engineer, who had just completed the Mark Hopkins Hotel. Smith undertook a major renovation, including adding an indoor pool, the 'Fairmont Plunge.'


By 1941, The Fairmont had fallen victim of the depression and entered an era of 'benign neglect'.  The clientele consisted mostly of permanent residents, who blended in with the potted plants and old furniture.  Benjamin Swig purchased the hotel and The Fairmont began once again to 'rise from the ashes'.

The end of World War II, as well as the purchase of the hotel by Swig, was the catalyst that transformed her completely.  The International Conference was held at The Fairmont, which led to the birth of the United Nations. 

Ben Swig was an East Coast businessman who, 'had a knack for seeing a good thing and turning it around.'  Ben Swig knew that the interior of the hotel badly needed a facelift, and so he hired Dorothy Draper, the most famous decorator of the time, to transform the lobby and the public areas. 

Dorothy Draper.

Mrs. Draper came up with quite a different vision for The Fairmont.  She visualized the hotel as an enlarged copy of a Grand Venetian Palace, but at the same time she wished to capture the charm and romance of San Francisco. Her goal was to restore The Fairmont to its position as the center jewel in the crown of the Golden Age of San Francisco. With this in mind, she introduced new design innovations unheard of until then - black and red carpets, geranium and strawberry colors, gold and black lacquer - all replicating the charm and flamboyant atmosphere associated with the California Gold Rush.  

The Fairmont Lobby, 1941.

The result was magic.  Kings, Queens, Presidents and all who visited, were in awe by their surroundings.  The American public had been starved from new things for too long during the war.  The Fairmont was exactly what they craved.  The 'Draper touch' was a success.  The Fairmont was once again the place to see and be seen. 

Meanwhile, The Fairmont was making headlines of its own with its role as the meeting place of the United Nations.  Once again, history was being made in a big way. To this day, the plaque commemorating the drafting of the Charter for the United Nations can be seen outside the Garden Room on the lobby level.

The country flags of the original signatories fly proudly above the porte cochere.


Venetian Room.

Dorothy Draper also added her 'Draper Touch' to the Venetian Room.  Its grand reopening took place in 1947 as San Francisco's premier Supper Club.  The Venetian Room went on through the forties, fifties, sixties, seventies and even into the eighties, thanks to the insistence of Richard Swig, Benjamin Swig's son who later became President of The Fairmont Hotel Company, on having a place where hotel guests, as well as locals, could dine, dance and enjoying big name entertainment.  And what names they were too: Ella Fitzgerald, Nat 'King' Cole, Marlene Dietrich, Tina Turner, Joel Grey, Bobby Short, Vic Damone, James Brown, and many, many more. Ernie Hecksher and his orchestra came for a limited engagement, and never left, becoming the official band for the Venetian Room. The Venetian Room is most famous as the place in which Tony Bennett first sang 'I Left My Heart in San Francisco.'