The Original Fairmont
Fairmont San Francisco’s thrilling origin story begins with the California gold rush and Irish immigrant James Graham Fair. Along with the hundreds of thousands of others who flocked to the West during the mid-1800s, Fair came to California with golden ambitions. Instead, he found his fortune in the silver mines of Nevada and soon reaped a life of wealth and political influence in booming San Francisco. He purchased a plot of land atop Nob Hill, home to the ornate mansions of railroad tycoons such as Leland Stanford and Charles Crocker, with plans to construct a palatial estate. Though he didn’t realize these dreams during his lifetime, following Fair’s death in 1894, the land was passed to his daughter Tessie. Along with sister Virginia, she eventually fulfilled their father’s vision, constructing a majestic hotel named after Fair, taking the family name (Fair) and the hotel’s location on top of a hill (Mont) to create the stately moniker.
The highly anticipated hotel was scheduled to open the morning of April 18, 1906, but at 5:12 a.m., a massive 7.9 earthquake rocked San Francisco. While the Great Quake felled thousands of buildings, Fairmont San Francisco survived relatively unscathed, and even served as a temporary command post for city officials. However, twenty-four hours later, the hotel’s lavish interiors were gutted by a fire that consumed much of the city.
One year later, under the direction of Julia Morgan, California’s first female licensed architect who would later design Hearst Castle, Fairmont San Francisco became the city’s first major business to open following the quake. It threw open its doors with an extravagant fête featuring 13,000 oysters, rivers of champagne, and a night sky aglow with bursting fireworks. It was an opportunity for attendees to toast not just the hotel, but the rebirth of San Francisco. Hence, Fairmont San Francisco would come to be known as “a hotel so grand they built a city around it.”