By Terry Trucco
America’s 29th president, more infamous than illustrious, made news unexpectedly last week with the freshly unearthed (but hardly surprising) revelations that a) he fathered a child with his long-time mistress and b) he was not the country’s first black president (thank you, ancestry.com).
As it happened, I was in San Francisco, so I stopped by the Palace Hotel, where Warren G. Harding died unexpectedly almost 92 years to the day on August 2, 1923 of an apparent heart attack. (The exact cause of death remains unknown as his wife, said to be reading him a flattering newspaper article when he keeled over, vetoed an autopsy; perhaps she knew about Harding’s 26-year-old paramour all along.)
With a long, proud history dating from 1875 and a majestic Beaux Arts building hailing from 1909, the Palace figures prominently in San Francisco history. Hawaii’s King Kalakaua died here on a state visit in 1891, and the original building was destroyed by fire following the 1906 earthquake (tenor Enrico Caruso, a guest at the time, vowed never to return to San Francisco). It wasn’t all death and destruction. Woodrow Wilson hosted a lunch in the towering Garden Court to support the Treaty of Versailles in 1918. And the list of glittery guests includes Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin and Nikita Khrushchev. Ulysses S. Grant and Richard Nixon are among the presidents whose stays proved less life-changing than Harding’s. (more…)