The Story of the Hotel Californian

Serrano Hotel is in a historic building, recognized on the National Register of Historic Places in San Francisco. It was originally built as the Hotel Californian in 1923. The following are excerpts from the National Register and the 1998 form used to register the hotel as historically significant. We hope you’ll enjoy this short trip through time with us.

Vintage postcard of the Hotel Californian now the Serrano Hotel San FranciscoThe Hotel Californian, now the Serrano Hotel, is located at 403 Taylor Street in San Francisco. The original twelve-story hotel, built in 1923 for owner/builder Matthew A. Little, was designed by prolific San Francisco architect Edward E. Young. A four-story addition, completed in 1929, was designed by architect Alfred Henry Jacobs. The building was originally designed in the Renaissance Revival style with a Spanish Colonial Revival style lobby. The 1929 addition altered the exterior style to reflect the popular Art Deco style. The lobby retains its original Spanish Colonial Revival style. Significant exterior features include decorative pressed metal panels, balconies, and elaborate cornice decoration. Significant interior features include Spanish Colonial decoration in the lobby such as twisted columns and decorative ironwork. The building was operated by Matthew A. Little as an upscale apartment-hotel until 1935 when the Elizabeth Glide and the Glide Foundation purchased the hotel for use as a temperance hotel. The lobby is richly decorated in a Spanish Colonial Revival style. The lobby decorations, which cost $65,000 in 1923, are largely intact, and consist of coffered ceilings elaborately painted and carved.

Matthew A. Little, the First Owner

The Hotel Californian was commissioned by Matthew A. Little in 1923; owner, builder and manager of the hotel. San Francisco architect Edward E. Young designed the original 1923 Hotel Califomian and architect Alfred Henry Jacobs designed the four story addition in 1929. Upon completion of the additional four stories, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on July 27, 1929, “With the completion of its four-story addition, the Hotel Califomian looms on San Francisco skyline as an imposing structure of seventeen stories with 325 rooms, one of the most beautiful and modem hostelries in the west.” The newspaper went on to describe it as “.. .patterned after the finest hotel accommodations in the country and containing everything that modern ingenuity has devised for the happiness and comfort of guests.” It also describes the suites designed for the permanent guests as having “.. .Venetian furniture, beautiful walnut writing desks in antique style, modernistic tables and exquisite lamps and lighting fixtures.”

Edward E. Young, Architect

Edward E. Young Edward Eyestone Young was born in Carthage, Missouri, and little is known of him before his move to San Francisco in 1902, when he begins to appear in local documents as a contractor for a house on Fifth Avenue. He began working as an architect in 1903, and earned formal state certification in 1905. He married Julia Rapier Tharp, sister of city architect Newton Tharp, in 1906, and took up residence in a house of his own design. They had five children, including one, John Davis Young, who would take over his father’s practice a few years before his death in 1934. During his early career, E.E.Young designed buildings in the Queen Anne and Colonial styles. When the historical styles became popular in the 1920s, Young became a master at designing in any of the styles a client might request. During his career, Young designed nearly six hundred residential buildings, including apartment buildings and large private residences. He had a very large body of consistently good work, and seemed to have a never-ending supply of ideas for making relatively similar apartment buildings original and exciting. He was extremely popular and prolific, and so has left his mark on the city of San Francisco.

Lizzie Glide, Second Owner

Lizzie Glide, a devout Methodist, devoted her life to helping others. She and her husband, millionaire stockman Joseph Glide, were generous contributors of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South of Sacramento. Lizzie increased her personal involvement in missionary activities after having a spiritual experience. After Joseph Glide’s death, oil was discovered on the Glide ranch lands, enabling Lizzie to accomplish the numerous charitable and missionary goals she pursued in the name of her faith. She moved to Berkeley and proceeded to build facilities for a variety of purposes such as a Christian girls’ dormitory on the University of California at Berkeley campus, a Christian home for young San Francisco working women, the famous Glide Memorial Methodist Church in San Francisco, and in 1935 she acquired the Hotel Califomian (just two blocks from the Glide Memorial Church) for use as a temperance hotel. The Hotel Califomian operated as San Francisco’s only temperance hotel from 1935 to 1978.

Temperance Hotels

The earliest temperance organizations in the United States began in New England, and the movement spread quickly, especially in rural areas, under the influence of churches. The Calvinist, Quaker, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, and Presbyterian churches all preached abstinence. The movement involved a huge number of women, inspired to run moral and temperate homes. Many states adopted prohibition laws independently prior to 1917. After years of mounting pressure from prohibitionist organizations such as the Sons of Temperance, the Anti-Saloon League, and the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, Congress passed the 18th amendment in 1917, prohibiting the production, transportation, or sale of alcohol. After 14 years of constant struggles to enforce prohibition, it was repealed in 1933 with the passage of the 21st amendment. After prohibition was repealed, the temperance movement waned. With the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935, most churches turned away from the moralistic approach and towards the recognition of alcoholism as a disease and thus to the treatment of alcoholism.

Lizzie’s Foundation

The Glide Foundation successfully ran the Hotel Californian for many years, and the Foundation continues to be a major part of the San Francisco social landscape, offering over 20 social programs for the poor and homeless. Affiliated with the inspiring Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, they offer three free meals a day, health care, substance abuse recovery programs, low-income housing projects, and a wide range of services for women, children, and the elderly. Glide’s programs have been the model for other organizations nationwide.