Architects Walter Danforth Bliss and William Baker Faville visited the great hotels of Europe seeking inspiration for the St. Francis, established in 1904 and renowned from the start for its sumptuous surroundings. After San Francisco's 1906 fire ravaged the hotel, a larger, more luxurious Italian Renaissance–style residence was opened in 1907 to attract loyal clients from among the world's rich and powerful. The hotel's checkered past includes the ill-fated 1921 bash
in the suite of the silent-film superstar Fatty Arbuckle, at which a woman became ill and later died. Arbuckle endured three sensational trials for rape and murder before being acquitted, by which time his career was kaput. In 1975 Sara Jane Moore, standing among a crowd outside the hotel, attempted to shoot then-president Gerald Ford. As might be imagined, the grand lobby contains no plaques commemorating these events, though every November the hotel's pastry chef adds a new touch to his spectacular, rotating 12-foot-high gingerbread castle on display here—a fun holiday treat for families. Some visitors make the St. Francis a stop whenever they're in town, soaking up the lobby ambience or enjoying a cocktail in Clock Bar or a meal at Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak.