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August 14, 2015

Union Square: Then and Now

**Guest Post by Matthew Rubenstein, Hotel G Associate Sales & Social Media Manager

My favorite part about Union Square is how its rich history has a way of popping up when you least expect it. Somehow, things from so long ago can still find a way to surprise you. These surprises can come in the form of a passing cable car, and the spirited bell ringing style of the operator jolting me out of a daydream as I walk down Geary St. Other times it can come from some obscure tidbit of San Francisco trivia overheard from a passing tour guide who just happens to be dressed up as Emperor Norton. But the one thing I’ve found is that no matter how much time I spend actively searching them out, the best stories seem to always find me.

I have the good fortune of working at Hotel G on the corner of Mason and Geary. Our hotel is one of the newest properties in the city, but our building has always been a hotel since its construction in 1908. One of the first things I noticed was the graceful way in which our hotel celebrates the heritage features of the building in which we reside.

Hun Aw, the designer of the hotel, described her process as “predominantly subtractive, removing the extraneous to enhance the essential…There is a richness and complexity to the building’s history that cannot be replicated, and we wanted to celebrate that.”

That richness of history was manifested to me last week by a chance encounter (on Facebook of all places) with a man named Boyd Edwards- who moved into the old Fielding Hotel when his parents became the managers. He lived and worked in the building in the 1960s. Through the course of our extensive email exchange he told me a number of anecdotes, including how he and his brother used to sit on top of the elevator and ride it up and down “in the dark, with cables moving by” and stories about celebrities who used to frequent the hotel like the comedian Lenny Bruce and Davey Jones of The Monkees. My favorite was probably the one that went along with this picture:

“This photo was taken in front of the main entrance to Bob's Nevada Lounge on Geary St. The bar was decorated with silver dollars- on the bar, on the floor, in the front door. We gave silver dollars as change. I'm holding the cocktail on a frisbee. I used to amaze tourists sitting at tables by serving drinks on the frisbee and then turning it over and frissing it back to my friend at the bar. Frisbees were just invented. Jaws would drop.”

As I read these stories about Mr. Edwards’ life in the building so many years ago, sitting in my office in the very same penthouse where he once lived, I’ve never felt a more powerful connection to the countless lives that were lived in the same place as I am living mine.

Whether you are just visiting Union Square or, like me, you are lucky enough to have a more permanent connection to the area, there are countless opportunities to connect to its rich past. Sure there are many modern ways to spend your time here, but my advice would be to find a way to catch a glimpse into the past while you’re here. Take a guided tour from one of the many tour busses that leave regularly from the south part of the Square, or buy a guidebook and explore on your own. You could even ask a local hotel employee to share their favorite historical tidbit. I promise you’ll be glad you did.