The Selling of a Legend:
The Landmark Westin St. Francis
A legendary part of San Francisco's landscape has changed hands. A veritable foggy myth among rooms for rent, the Westin St. Francis has been sold for US$243 million by Starwood Hotels Resorts Worldwide (www.starwoodlodging.com) to a limited liability corporation affiliated with the Blackstone Group (www.blackstonefinancial.com). The sale, which is subject to customary conditions including the consent of a majority of the limited partners of Westin Hotels Limited Partnership, will likely close in the second quarter of 2000, officials from both companies say.
"This sale is part of the natural evolution of the partnership, which was formed in 1986," remarked Joseph Long, senior vice president of acquisitions and development for Starwood. The St. Francis, which now has 1,192 rooms and 83 suites, was built in 1904. Westin has managed the property since 1954.
With its striking ambience - including mural columns, balconies and crystal chandeliers, carved ceilings, plush furnishings, and rich paneling throughout - the Westin is a bona fide San Francisco landmark. Located on the fabled Union Square, the Westin has an illustrious history.
It was here, for example, that Enrico Caruso dined with John Barrymore the morning after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. That illustrious list of guests has continued throughout the hotel's history. In the 1980s, for example, the guest list included Queen Elizabeth II and President Ronald Reagan. Ironically, the queen stayed in the Presidential Suite, while the president stayed in the London Suite.
The change in ownership, though, may not be bad news at all for lovers of resplendent old hotels. Chances are, guests and visitors alike will continue to enjoy the same high standards exemplified by the hotel's extraordinary rosewood-paneled lobby, as the deal provides that the Westin will continue to manage the hotel.
"This is strictly a change in ownership," Long commented, "and hotel guests will continue to receive the same upscale services and amenities they have come to expect from Westin."
Concurred Dale Garvin, the hotel manager, "It is strictly a piece of paper." Hotel employees were notified of the pending change of ownership in the spring of 1999, Garvin said.
The old girl, however, has certainly dressed up for her new owners. The Westin has nearly completed a $55 million restoration project, which was begun in 1994 and has added new furniture, wall coverings and carpeting to the historic main buildings. That spruce-up complements the 1992 restoration of the hotel's Powell Street and Tower lobbies.
Home base for San Francisco's prestigious "Black and White Ball," the Westin St. Francis has a long history of elegantly going for the gusto.
For its 2000 New Year's Eve celebration, for example, the hotel had planned to mark the beginning of the new millennium by sliding the world's largest olive down the world's largest swizzle stick into a seven-story martini glass as the clock tolled midnight.
Alas, opposition from church groups nixed that idea. Fortunately, despite the change in ownership, the idea of the Westin St. Francis continues.
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