Cliff House Project
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 Research Topics

A Hotel?

Occasionally there are stories hinting that the Victorian Cliff House (1896-1907) may have been a hotel, like this...

Item 1, a post-earthquake newspaper column (April 22, 1906) that claims someone stayed at the Cliff House:

New York Times - Apr 22, 1906
The NYT did not have a follow-up story on Mrs. Joseph Schwab.  But we do know that the
Cliff House did NOT slide into the sea as so many papers reported.


Item 2, a stereoview (german?) which reads "Amrika, San Franzisko  Strand-Hotel "Cliff House":

German translation:  strand = beach

Item 3, The Cliff House is listed in the telephone directory yellow pages under "hotels"  (
courtesy Ron Filion,


But John Martini notes that the definition of "hotel" during this period doesn't necessarily mean imply lodging.

I went on-line and found the following supporting evidence:

"The word hotel derives from the French hotel, which originally referred to a French version of a townhouse, NOT a place offering accommodation (in contemporary usage, hotel has the meaning of "hotel", and hotel particular is used for the old meaning)." Source:

Next, I found the following definition in Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary for 1913, a date which is pretty close to the time period we're concerned with:

"Hotel \Ho*tel"\, n. [F. h[^o]tel, OF. hostel. See Hostel.]
   1. A house for entertaining strangers or travelers; an inn or
      public house, of the better class." {NB; a public house is a pub}

Finally, in Australia a hotel is defined as "
a tavern; pub."  Again, no lodging mentioned.

Actually, this definition of hotel continues in use today at finer restaurants (albeit in an abbreviated form) where the fellow in charge is called the "maitre d", which is actually short for "Maitre d'Hotel", French for "a headwaiter or house steward."

Given Sutro's insistence that his Cliff House was designed as a "French chateau", this theory may have legs.

-John M

John Freeman chimes in

Listing the Cliff House as a hotel doesn't really mean much, does it? The fashion of the time was to provide a comfortable room for dinners to either sleep-off a night of indulgence or for a little extra "dessert" with a special dinner guest.

CASE CLOSED unless stronger evidence is found.

-John F

A compelling supposition.  But Zoe digs up fairly damning evidence to the contrary...

San Francisco Call - Aug 26, 1905

San Francisco Chronicle - Dec 18 1896
For more on the Cliff House Cottage click here

As to the earlier clipping it's likely that Mrs. Corey was also staying at the Cliff House Cottage.





Cliff House door knob?

About three years ago someone emailed me about a door knob...

From: "Dan Z"
Subject: Cliff house door knob
Date: Tue, 19 Jul 2005

My name is Dan.
When I was younger I lived in SF and climbed down in the rocks below the Cliff House frequently with a friend of mine. We found a lot of things down there. I still have a door knob from one of the Cliff House’s. It is made of glass (I think) inside of the knob is a tea rose with a sprig of fern leaves. The back is white. If you would like I could take a photo of it & send it to you. I would like to know what era it came from. We even found silver forks, Half dollar stuck in between 2 rocks (Liberty Half dollar). I recently took my daughter there to show her how I used to spend my time. We took a bunch of pictures. It was a great time.

Thank you for your time,
Dan Z.


Today he sent me the following images....



From: "Dan Z"
Subject: Cliff house door knob
Date: Mon, 7 Apr 2008

Hello Gary,

You may remember me. I contacted you about 3 or 4 years ago regarding a door knob I had found while goofing off below the Clif House as a young man. I used to go there with a friend of mine and run from the waves in the small cave to the right of the Sutro bath area.

Being curious young men we also went below the Cliff House one day and found silver ware, and old coin & this door knob stuck between some rocks. I do not know the where abouts of the coin & fork. However I am the proud owner of this old door knob.

As you can see it has unfortunately lost much of it's color inside but it is in really good condishion for it's age.

Tell me what you think of it. I am attaching a couple photos.

Thank you for your time,
Dan Z.