The Sir Francis Drake Hotel

When we were young, we were told that Francis Drake was a brave explorer who circumnavigated the globe, helped defeat the Spanish Armada, and discovered San Francisco Bay. Well, two out of three ain’t bad; the famous Drake Plate found in Marin County in 1936, which led to the belief that Drake discovered the Bay, was declared a fake in the 1970s, I believe. Drake actually landed further up the California Coast. However, there’s also evidence that Drake was a slave trader, took part in the massacre of women and children on Rathlin Island, off Ireland, and beheaded his co-commander on one of his voyages for witchcraft. (Source, Wikipedia) Because of these revelations, the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, on the corner of Powell and Sutter Streets and opened in 1928, will be changing its name to the Beacon Grand when it reopens this spring. I did a look back on my blog recently to some of the pictures featuring the famous hotel that I’ve posted. (Thumbnail images)

Looking down Powell Street to the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in the 1950s: The northern view from the Starlight Room on the top of the hotel, which Herb Caen preferred to the Top of the Mark, was completely blocked by the Marriott Hotel.


A cable car climbs Powell Street on Nob Hill in the 1940s:

The view along Powell Street from the south in the 1960s: (Vintage Everyday)

The hotel lobby in 1928, the year the hotel opened: I got my update in February of 2020, just before the Covid 19 Pandemic closed the Sir Francis Drake, which is its current status. (North Point Press)

A lonely looking serviceman walks past the garage entrance to the Sir Francis Drake Hotel during World War Two.

Thomas Kinkade’s glamorous, although inaccurate, painting featuring the Sir Francis Drake Hotel:

Jack Lemmon races his Thunderbird down Powell Street from California Street in the 1963 film ‘Good Neighbor Sam’.


A streetcar rattles east along Sutter Street past the Drake Hotel on the corner in the 1950s; (

The Sir Francis Drake was a guidepost for finding the location of these photos of a newspaper stand on the day after the Pearl Harbor attack, when I first saw them in 2016. They were identified incorrectly as being taken at Market and Montgomery Streets. The key to finding this spot was in the tall building in the distance at the center of the first comparison picture. That looked to me like the old Sir Francis Drake Hotel. If it was, then I had to find out what angle the pictures were taken from. You can’t see the Sir Francis Drake from here anymore, but these pictures were shot on the northeast corner of Sutter and Kearny looking west. (Shorpy Archives)

3 thoughts on “The Sir Francis Drake Hotel

  • Gads! Except for the questionable location of Drakes Bay, I was not aware of all this other scandal with Sir Francis Drake! I am sort of curios about where his bay is if it is not Drakes Bay.

    • He may have landed in Drake’s Bay, Tony, but that’s questionable too. The Drake Plate was found in Marin inside of the San Francisco Bay, and suggested the Drake entered into the Golden Gate. The engraved plate turned out to be a hoax, and most historians agree that he never even saw the San Francisco Bay on his voyage past the California Coast.

      • It seems to me that Point Reyes is more difficult to miss than the Golden Gate. I like to believe that Sir Francis Drake landed there, rather than someplace farther north. I am also not so quick to believe scandal about him. Scandalizing historical figures seems to be a fad nowadays, and may be just as inaccurate as the history that it attempts to correct.

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