Posted in Photography, Travel

The Empress Hotel and The Emporium

Copyright Bobak Ha’Eri, CC-By-SA-3.0

Victoria, British Columbia’s beautiful landmark Empress Hotel (now The Fairmont Empress) was built by British architect Francis Rattenbury from 1904–08 as a terminus hotel for the nearby Canadian Pacific steamship line.

Initially, The Empress served businesspeople and well-off visitors. To accommodate all the patrons, new wings were added from 1909–14 and in 1928. When Canadian Pacific stopped serving Victoria, the hotel remarketed itself as a tourist resort.

Copyright Another Believer

Famous guests include Prince Edward, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the late Queen Mum), Katharine Hepburn, Douglas Fairbanks, Jack Benny, Rita Hayworth, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Tallulah Bankhead, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Camilla, and Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan.

Prince Edward’s waltzing till dawn in the Crystal Ballroom in 1919 was so important to Victorians, elderly women’s obituaries almost fifty years later bore headlines like “Mrs. Thornley-Hall Dies. Prince of Wales Singled Her Out.”

Copyright Another Believer

Most of the 477 rooms overlook the Inner Harbour or the rear courtyard gardens. There are four restaurants—The Veranda, Q at The Empress, Q Bar, and The Lobby Lounge. The lattermost hosts the famous Tea at the Empress, which has run daily in the summer ever since the hotel’s opening on 20 January 1908.

More than 400 people enjoy this classic Victorian-era tea service every day, which features tea sandwiches, a house blend of tea, pastries, scones, quiches, clotted cream, strawberry preserves with lavender from the rooftop garden, mousse, and champagne.

The house tea was first served to King George V in 1914 in Stoke-on-Trent, England, upon the opening of the Booth factory, and the china was first used for the 1939 visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

Copyright Bobak Ha’Eri, CC-By-SA-3.0

For many years, there was no sign above the door. As workers raised the sign, a furious man proclaimed, “Anyone who doesn’t know this is The Empress shouldn’t be staying here.”

In 1965, debate was raised about whether The Empress should be torn down to make room for a more modern hotel. Thankfully, this beautiful Edwardian landmark was preserved, and launched a $4 million restoration campaign, “Operation Teacup.”

In 1989, $45 million more were spent on renovations. While new features such as a health club and indoor pool were added, the goal was to restore it to its prewar elegance instead of bequeathing a new image.

Many people report ghostly sightings, such as an early 20th century maid who helps with sixth floor cleaning.

Copyright Brandon Godfrey; Source

My characters Inga Savvina and Yuriy Yeltsin-Tsvetkov go on their first date to Tea at The Empress in August 1947, the day after Yuriy finally confessed he’s been in love with Inga almost since they met five years ago.

Yuriy is so excited to finally be on a date with his dream girl, he almost misses their streetcar stop. He never thought Inga would want to be more than friends, or go out with someone almost five and a half years older.

Yuriy’s family also treats his spinster aunt Zina to tea and supper by The Empress for her 60th birthday.

San Francisco’s Emporium department store opened on Market Street in 1896. For decades, this was a beloved shopping destination, but it sadly closed on its 100th birthday. Today, only the glass dome and façade survive.

In 1896, it was advertised as “the most beautiful store on earth,” with “a grand display of a million-and-a-half dollars worth of all good kinds of merchandise,” fifteen acres of floor space, and a concert by The Emporium Orchestra.

In the gaslight era, The Emporium boasted 10,000 electric lights and its own power plant. Every morning, the store opened with a bugle call, and “improperly-dressed” saleswomen were sent home.

Surprisingly, the 1906 earthquake didn’t damage the building too badly, but the resulting fires destroyed the stock and all the records (accounts receivable among them). That summer, The Emporium set up temporary new digs at Van Ness Avenue.

In 1908, it reopened with a new glass dome 110 feet high. In 1936, it became the city’s first big store to use escalators.

For years, upper-class San Franciscans shunned The Emporium, since it was on the south side of Market Street, a major social dividing line.

After WWII, kiddy rides were installed on the roof during December.

Corporate shakeouts, the proliferation of retail stores, and the bourgeois move to the suburbs all led to The Emporium’s decline.

The Emporium’s restored glass dome in Westfield San Francisco Centre; Copyright http://flickr.com/photos/maveric2003/; Source

My characters Vsevolod Smirnov and Nadezhda Lebedeva shop in The Emporium during their exhilarating first full day in America in April 1933. They buy new clothes and swimwear, and marvel at the modern appliances they never dreamt existed. Nadezhda doesn’t even recognize a modern telephone.