HOTEL EMPIRE, San Francisco

You'll never guess the history of this place.

Hotel Empire_San Francisco_tatteredandlost
Click on image to see it larger.

It seems funny that a hotel would put out a postcard and then not provide any location information. There is nothing on the back other than "POST CARD" and "PLACE STAMP HERE". I guess they thought the mere mention of its name would be enough.
"Excuse me cabbie, take me to the Empire."
"Sure thing bud."
Well, what if the same guy got in the cab and said:
"Hey cabbie, take me to that church/hotel."
The cabbie, in 1930, would have driven here. Yes, folks it's a church...it's a hotel...it's a church...it's a hotel...it's two...two...two things in one.
Religion: San Francisco Skyscraper-Church
Monday, Mar. 17, 1930

When city land becomes too expensive to build churches upon, a solution is to combine churches and skyscrapers. The Chicago Temple (First Methodist Episcopal Church plus offices, stores) and Manhattan's Broadway Temple (Methodist Episcopal Church plus apartment houses, hotel, stores) are examples. San Franciscans now have a brand new 30-story pyramidal skyscraper-church-hotel to admire —the William Taylor Hotel and Temple Methodist Episcopal Church, on the busy corner of McAllister and Leavenworth Streets.

A greystone tower with a suggestion of Gothic ornament, it is named for Forty-Niner William ("California") Taylor who chose the longest way to the gold fields— around the Horn. In 1849 that route was safely traversed by 108 vessels. Most of the passengers sought gold. Few of them became either rich or famous, many returned East. William Taylor took a cargo of cut timber with him to build a church. An overpowering man with a stentorian voice, he wore a big, warm beard instead of a shirt. He had been Methodist Bishop of Africa. When he arrived in San Francisco he put his Bible on an overturned whiskey barrel in the middle of Portsmouth Square, bellowed and sang until the saloons emptied to hear him. For diversion he swam regularly across San Francisco Bay, a procedure still regarded as something of an athletic feat. He founded the College of the Pacific (Methodist Episcopal college in Stockton, enrollment about 970), wrote more than 20 books, thundered his old-time religion at Gold Coast sots and socialites.

The building which bears his name cost $2,800,000, contains 500 guest rooms and 32 tower apartments, a famed French chef, a glossy array of electric stoves, refrigerators, semi-modernistic furniture. It is floodlighted at night, has a tapestried lobby. Its seven elevators can reach the roof in 30 seconds.

The church proper, in the Gothic style, will seat 1,500, with a chapel seating 125 more. Two assembly halls may be combined to hold an audience of 1,100 for athletics or theatricals. Four Methodist churches combined to form the new congregation. The pastor is Dr. Walter John Sherman, who devoted ten years to the scheme. Laymen prominently involved: Fred D. Parr, president of Parr Terminal Co.; John H. McCallum, lumberman, president of the San Francisco Y.M.C.A. (SOURCE: TIME)
The depression was not kind to the William Taylor Hotel:
Full of zeal and optimism, in San Francisco ten years ago Methodists of four of the city's biggest churches—Central, California Street, Wesley, Howard Street—sold their properties, pooled $800,000 to form a superchurch which they called Temple Methodist. Their optimism the Methodists expressed by building a 27-story hotel, highest on the Pacific Coast, at Leavenworth & McAllister streets in downtown San Francisco. The William Taylor Hotel, with a cathedral-like, 1,300-seat church concealed in its second, third and fourth floors, would support Temple Church, everyone felt, retire its $1,550,000 in first mortgage bonds at maturity. But more funds were needed and before the hotel was completed in 1930 the Methodists floated a $150,000 second mortgage issue, borrowed $100,000 privately, obtained $534,000 more through mortgages sold to the Methodist home missions board.

Installed in its fine quarters. Temple Church prospered spiritually, but William Taylor Hotel moved into the red, remained there. For a time the Methodists paid interest charges totaling, $135.000 from their own pockets, then let a $500,000 debt accumulate. A bondholders' protective committee foreclosed, bought in the property last November for $750,000. The Methodists, their investment lost for good, were invited to move out of the hotel, their quarters to be used for more lucrative operations, including a garage. Temple Church was as homeless and penniless as any evicted tenement family, but it had kind neighbors. Temple Emanu-El, San Francisco's largest synagog, offered the use of its building on Sundays. A small Methodist church offered the Templers a place to worship in between regular services. And San Francisco's most vigorous Congregational church made what Temple's pastor called an offer of "marriage." Temple accepted. Last Sunday for the first time Methodists mingled with Congregationalists in First Church (2,500 seats), downtown near the swank St. Francis Hotel. (SOURCE: TIME)
In a 1937 auction, new owners acquired the William Taylor for $750,000, changed its name to the Empire and promoted its penthouse as the Empire Sky Room.

Eventually, the Empire also failed. By 1942, it was sold to the federal government and became an office of the Internal Revenue Service.

Since 1978, the once prestigious William Taylor Hotel has been a dormitory for Hastings College of the Law students. (SOURCE: SF Gate)
To see a postcard showing an illustration of the Sky Room click here. Can't guarantee that this link will last for long because it's a card for sale at CardCow.com.

If you are wondering who William Taylor was, wellllllll...
William Taylor (1821-1902) was an American Missionary Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, elected in 1884. Taylor University, a Christian college in Indiana, carries his name.

Taylor was born 2 May 1821 in Rockbridge County—home to Sam Houston (b.1796), Robert E. Lee (b.1807), and Stonewall Jackson (b.1824)—in the Commonwealth of Virginia. He was the oldest of eleven children born to Stuart Taylor and Martha Hickman. In his autobiography, Story of My Life (1896), Taylor describes his grandfather, James, as one of five brothers who were “Scotch-Irish of the Old Covenantor type…who emigrated from County Armagh, Ireland, to the colony of Virginia, about one hundred and thirty years ago” (i.e. 1766). The Hickman family was of English ancestry and settled in Delaware in the late 1750s. Both families “fought for American freedom in the Revolution of 1776” and afterward emancipated their slaves. Taylor’s father, Stuart, was a “tanner and currier—a mechanical genius of his times”; his mother was “mistress of the manufacture of all kinds of cloth.” Both parents, he says, were of “powerful constitution of body and mind…their English school education quite equal to the average of their day.”

Conversion to Christ
Before William was ten years old, his grandmother had taught him the Lord's Prayer and explained that he could become a son of God. He longed for this relationship, but was unsure how to obtain it. Overhearing the story of a poor Black man who had received salvation, he wondered why he could not, also. He recounts in his autobiography,

"soon after, as I sat one night by the kitchen fire, the Spirit of the Lord came on me and I found myself suddenly weeping aloud and confessing my sins to God in detail, as I could recall them, and begged Him for Jesus' sake to forgive them, with all I could not remember; and I found myself trusting in Jesus that it would all be so, and in a few minutes my heart was filled with peace and love, not the shadow of a doubt remaining."

He entered the Baltimore Annual Conference in 1843. Bishop Taylor traveled to San Francisco, California in 1849, and organized the first Methodist church in San Francisco. Between 1856 and 1883 he traveled in many parts of the world as an evangelist. He was elected Missionary Bishop of Africa in 1884, and retired in 1896.

Books he wrote include:
Seven Years' Street Preaching in San Francisco (1857)
Christian Adventures in South Africa (1867)
Four Years' Campaign in India (1875)
Our South American Cousins (1878)
Self-Supporting Missions in India (1882)
The Story of My Life (1895)
Flaming Torch in Darkest Africa (1898)
(SOURCE: Wikipedia)
Taylor died in 1902 in Palo Alto, California and is buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California. (SOURCE: Taylor Univeristy)

Now, seriously, what do you think this fellow would have thought about having a hotel such as this with his name above the door? With a penthouse! I don't know how many members they had, but this is surely a sort of odd version of a mega-church. A glowing mega-church that looks like Batman should be standing on top of it.

Oh, and by the way, apparently the address is 100 McAllister Street in case you're ever in San Francisco and want to experience it's wonderfulness without the psychedelic sky. To see a current photograph and read a brief blog post about the building click here.

And to think I started to bed a couple hours ago thinking I'd post this card with "Hey, does anyone know anything about this place?" as my message. Why, oh why couldn't I have just scanned a Travel Lodge in Kansas. I'd have been in bed for hours!


  1. Wow, great story. Next time I'm in San Francisco I will look for it. I think I know where it is.

  2. Thanks. I always thought it was sort of a bizarre card with the colors and all the hub-bub at the base with the cars and people rushing around. Now to add in religion, alcohol in the penthouse, the IRS, and a law school it just gets even more colorful!

  3. I just stumbled across this site, I know the postings are a couple years old but I have something of interest. I googled "William Taylor Hotel" because I was cleaning out my garage when I came across some ornate silverware I forgot we had. The best my wife and I can remember we bought the utensils in an antique or junk shop years ago. On the front side of several of the forks, spoons and knives are a large "W" overlaying a large "T". On the back side of these same utensils they are clearly stamped, "William Taylor Hotel". I became intrigued and decided to see what, if anything I could find out about this hotel. Needless to say I came across quite a bit of information, including this site, which has been very helpful. Although I grew up in California, I have lived in North Georgia for years now and believe we found the silverware in an old shop in the North Georgia mountains. How in the world they ended up there is anybody's guess. Anyway, thought that was a cool story and I wonder how much of that old silverware is still around. Considering the William Taylor ceased to exist in about 1936, anything from there is pretty old now.

    1. I'm thrilled you found the site and posted this. Should you ever take photos of the cutlery I'd be happy to post it with this old image.

      Isn't it amazing how a little object can lead you on a path you never imagined?

  4. Part of the downfall of the William Taylor Hotel lay in the fact that it was dry: No liquor sales allowed. I'm not sure if the rule extended to the guestrooms, but I wouldn't see it as impossible. In San Francisco, after the end of Prohibition (or even before), that was a recipe for failure.

    My grandparents danced at the penthouse bar after it became the Empire. Later my grandfather worked in the building for the IRS. He always found it novel that his office had its own full bathroom.

    'Tattered and Lost', I have a silver personal-sized teapot from the William Taylor.

    1. I love the idea of your grandfather working there. And his own private bath. I'm hoping they took the beds out of the rooms before they moved the agents in.

      Very cool that you have the teapot. If you take a photo I'd love to share it.