Westin St. Francis Hotel – San Francisco, California - Atlas Obscura

Westin St. Francis Hotel

Only hotel where you can legally launder money. 


A historic luxury hotel located on Powell and Geary Streets on San Francisco’s Union Square, construction on the Westin St. Francis started in 1904, just before the San Francisco Earthquake. It took many years to complete, though, with work on the double-width north wing finally ending in 1913. In 1972, the hotel was expanded and, with the completion of the 390-foot tower to the rear, the Westin St. Francis became one of the largest hotels in the city with more than 1,200 rooms and suites.

Though it was already well-known and in and out of the news as one of the most luxurious places to stay on the west coast, the Westin St. Francis didn’t reach its pinnacle of fame until 1921, when it was the scene of Hollywood’s first great scandal. In September, Fatty Arbuckle and friends were staying in several of the hotel’s guest rooms when one of his guests fell ill. Arbuckle would later learn that Virginia Rappe had been hospitalized and, before she died while receiving care, claimed to have been assaulted and raped by Arbuckle. The story made headlines around the world and Arbuckle was brought to trial. He was released when the jury couldn’t decide whether or not to convict him, but his career was ruined forever.

Today, the hotel is still standing and plays temporary home to hundreds of guests every night. It is known not for rape scandals anymore - or for the dozens of United Nations delegations that the place hosted throughout the mid-20th century - but for the restored details. A master clock in the lobby was the first in the Western United States, for example.

Since 1938 all of the coins that are passed into the hands of hotel employees by guests are laundered in a special machine. This service was introduced in order to avoid dirt spots on the white gloves that the ladies wore around the Westin St. Francis and has been kept going ever since. The Westin St. Francis even employs an individual specifically to wash the coins; this might be the only legally working professional money laundered in the world.

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June 7, 2011

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