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It is doubtful whether there is a city in the world except San Francisco who chief “lion,” both in the estimation of her own people and in the eyes of visitors from abroad, is a hotel.  That this should be the case with a city of over four hundred thousand inhabitants, celebrated for its wealthy men and the magnificent mansions which they have erected, is proof of the stupendous size and extraordinary character in every respect of the institution which is now, and probably ever will be, the most wonderful “show” in town.

Four years and a half ago the Palace Hotel began “running.”  Five million dollars had been spent in its construction and equipment, and it then seemed as if such an enormous outlay could never be recovered, much less be made to come back with interest.  Wiseacres by the legion predicted the speedy collapse of the vast enterprise and even far-seeing businessmen shook their heads doubtingly.  The Palace, they said, was a town in itself; San Francisco already possessed several first-class and very large hotels; to erect another on such an enormous scale would be money thrown away, notwithstanding the fondness of Californians for living in hotels and the vast stream of visitors which constantly flows into the city.  The projectors of the Palace, however, thought differently.  They were men of boundless energy and enterprise, and—a very important item—were possessed of great wealth.  They were convinced that such an institution as the Palace could be made to pay, and, having reached that conclusion, carried their gigantic scheme out to the end with an undaunted vigor which astonished the world.  Let us see how right they were in their judgment.

Last Sunday the Palace Hotel housed 1,122 guests, and when we say, “housed” we mean that this vast number of people were lodged and fed with all the luxury that money, taste and modern invention can supply.  Since the day mentioned the cry has continually been “Still they come;” but the answer has perforce been the mournful one given to the ten foolish virgins: “Too late, too late, ye cannot enter now,” and the applicants were forced to seek shelter in less favored caravansaries.  For the number reached on Sunday sufficed to fill even “the biggest hotel in the world” to its utmost capacity, though it was not until after the rooms of the employees had been pressed into service, and the servants sent to find quarters outside, that the management inexorably refused to admit more guests.  This, we may remark, is the first time that the Palace has been quite full, but it looks very much as if a state of repletion is to be its normal condition henceforward.

The experience of this one week, not to speak of the immense business which the hotel has done continuously for years past—ever since its completion, in fact—proves beyond a doubt that the Palace is an assured financial success, and that its projectors were longer-headed men than those who doubted the soundness of their judgment.  It must not be supposed, however, that this success is due alone to the requirements of the transient and permanent population of San Francisco.  Had the Palace been built or conducted on ordinary principles, even though it had been constructed at far less expense than it was, there can be no doubt that it would have been “one too many,” and would have proved a financial failure.  Its life depended upon its possessing those very qualities which most people predicted would cause its early death.  Had it been merely a “big” hotel it could not have hoped for a very large share of patronage where so many other big hotels already existed; but when it was built on a scale so stupendous that its colossal size alone made it famous throughout the world, then it became a marvel which it was a privilege to inhabit even for a single night.  In the same way if it had been fitted, furnished and catered for as hotels usually are, even its magnitude could not have saved it; but when it was made in all these particulars a palace in fact as well as in name, and gave its guests apartments and a cuisine which for comfort and luxury are unrivaled in either hemisphere charging for the same no higher rates than its competitors, then he who wished to go to a hotel would be a fool indeed not to go to the Palace.

But it is, perhaps, more to the excellence which as always characterized its management, more than to say other cause, that the Palace owes its popularity and triumphant career.  And though there has never been a time when it was not most ably conducted, yet the above remark is particularly true of the present regime.  It is no exaggeration to say that from the manager-in-chief down to the lowest bell-boy, the right man is found in the right place every time.  Mr. Alex. D. Sharon, nephew of the proprietor of the Palace, Senator Sharon, and lessee of the building, is the very model of what a hotel manager should be—and hotel managing has been made a pretty exact science of on this side of the Atlantic.  Besides being a gentleman by birth, breeding, education and instinct, he possesses all the executive ability so indispensable to his responsible business position, and all the evenness and geniality of nature which is necessary to one having an army of subordinates to deal with.  His personal status in society being of the very highest, he thoroughly understands the requirements of that society, and in his own quiet, unostentatious way, see that those requirements are attended to.  When we remember that, before leasing the Palace, Mr. Sharon had had no experience in the hotel business, we cannot but marvel at his wonderful aptitude for it.  The man of detail, the presiding deity, the life and soul of the Palace, is Mr. Geo. H. Smith, the chief clerk.  No guest who has ever spent a night at the hotel forgets him; nor what is far more remarkable, does he ever forget the guest.  The memory possessed by this gentleman is positively awe-inspiring.  John Brown may have put up at the Palace for a few days, several years ago; but if John Brown should appear before Mr. Smith tonight, without mentioning his name, Mr. Smith would most likely say:  “How d’ye do. Mr. Brown; would you like the same rooms you had last time you were here?  Pompey, show the gentleman to No. 1,002.”  Let some one of the thousand odd guests ask Mr. Smith if so-and-so is still at the hotel, and in a moment he will be told when the party in question left, where he went to, and where he may probably be found.  But this prince of clerks’ accomplishments do not end here.  It is doubtful whether any man lives who is his equal as a linguist.  Out of some five or six different languages, it is difficult to tell which is his native tongue, so fluently and correctly does he speak them all.  Add to these qualities courtesy, attention and a scrupulous regard for the comfort of every individual of the population of Palaceville, and you have the leading characteristics of Mr. George H. Smith.  And so it is throughout the whole host of employees that are subordinate to the manager and head clerk.  The junior clerks are—as indeed they must be, to give satisfaction—gentlemanly, polite and efficient; while the legion of chambermaids, waiters, bell boys, porters, etc., are picked for their suitability for their respective callings.  Is it any wonder, then, that we are proud of our great caravansary, and that visitors, from kings and princes downwards, regard it as one of the great sights of the far West?  Probably no man has ever traveled more thoroughly over the fact of the earth than our late visitor, George Augustus Sala.  In a recent letter to the London Telegraph, he pronounces the Palace the best, the greatest and the most wonderful hotel that the world holds; and he ought to know.

San Francisco News Letter and California Advertiser
May 27, 1876