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History
History

The history of the Prescott Hotel spans 100 years, and is as rich and colorful as the history of San Francisco itself.

Originally named the Cecil Hotel, the Prescott was built in 1914 on Post Street, 1.5 blocks west of Union Square. The hotel opened in October 1914, under the ownership and proprietorship of Mrs. O.E. Morris. It was an upscale establishment targeting high society. The opening brochure reads, "The Cecil Hotel of San Francisco is operated primarily for those who love home. The same care, the same good taste, the same refinement that would predominate in a luxurious private mansion, prevail here. There is an air of good cheer, harmony, of congeniality which makes the Cecil Hotel a charming place to live and to linger."

In 1917, the hotel was purchased by W. Gainer Thigpen, owner of the Feather River Inn in the Sierra Nevada mountains. A brochure from that time reads "In a city noted for its famous chefs, the cuisine of the 'CECIL' is an outstanding feature of this 'homey hotel.' The entire house reflects an atmosphere of culture and refinement." Rates started at $1.50/day European Plan, $4.00/day American Plan.

In 1944, an infamous cult leader named Arthur "The Voice" Bell bought the Cecil Hotel and staffed it with his followers. A convicted seditionist and racketeer, Bell was the founder of Mankind United, which claimed that a huge malevolent conspiracy ran the world. Opposing them were the "Sponsors," who were shortly going to announce their presence, and put in place a worldwide utopia. Bell made bizarre claims, including that he could be in several different places at once, and that the Sponsors had advanced technology which would allow the dead to be resurrected on a distant planet. The San Francisco Chronicle called him "the man with 200 aliases and great fistfuls of $100 bills." He had several luxurious apartments and mansions, including a swanky pad in Hollywood with an indoor swimming pool, pipe organ, and secret cocktail bar (alcohol was forbidden to the rank and file). In San Francisco, he was sued by the labor unions and lost. In 1951 he abdicated and the cult withered away completely.

The Cecil Hotel was later acquired by Vance Huckins' Hotels, run by 3rd generation hotelier John Vance Huckins, whose father had built the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. The company's headquarters were at the Cecil Hotel until 1988, when Huckins retired and the company dissolved.

In 1989 Kimpton Hotels took over management, and after a major renovation rechristened it the Prescott Hotel.

That same year, Wolfgang Puck opened Postrio at the Prescott. As the original "celebrity chef" and one of the creators of California Cuisine, Puck's restaurant was immensely popular. "The power elite head to Wolfgang Puck's Postrio, which also attracts a bevy of Hollywood celebrities, from Robert Redford to Sheryl Crow. You'll often find the big-name stars nestled into one of the four booths at the bottom of the impressive staircase. The inventive food combinations include grilled quail with spinach- and egg-filled ravioli, and dusted, five-spice salmon with gingered creamed corn." - American Way (Dec. 1999)

In 1992, the Prescott Hotel expanded into the adjacent building, converting the former San Francisco Press Club into 64 guest rooms. Among the many famous people who spoke at the Press Club was Bobby Kennedy. Two weeks before he was assassinated, Kennedy campaigned in Union Square and spoke at the Press Club (now part of the Prescott Hotel). This video shows glimpses of the Hotel Cecil in the background, and Kennedy speaking at the Press Club.

To view the video, go to the San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive.