San Francisco News

Plans to save iconic 'Tonga Room' on hold

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A deal to save one of the last remaining Tiki bars in the country has been put on hold. The San Francisco Planning Commission has delayed its decision about the Fairmont Hotel's renovation plans until next year because there are too many concerns.

The Tonga room at the Fairmont Hotel is an over the top Polynesian-style Tiki bar featuring indoor rain storms, but the hotel owners say it has no place in their renovations plan. That $130 million renovation calls for tearing down the hotel's 23-story tower and five-story base, eliminating more than 200 rooms and building condominiums.

"It is too large to maintain the Fairmont at the level its known for, so they want to have an economic engine to renovate the historic structure and bring it up to five-star level," Fairmont consultant Sam Lauter said.

City planners have highlighted the historic nature of the Tonga Room, but there's more at stake from the downsizing of the Fairmont for those who work there. Jane Bassett has been at the Fairmont 30 years.

"The impact is going to be many, many people losing their jobs," she said.

The company says it has a plan to protect jobs, but some workers don't buy that. The massive renovation project is also dividing Nob Hill neighbors.

"I can't see how we can have a weak Fairmont and see that turn into a second class hotel and have that be good for Nob Hill," Nob Hill resident Ray Brown said.

Others have concerns about construction noise, traffic congestion, architectural plans and the amount of community input.

"You would think there would be more circumstances city leaders would look at besides the Tonga Room," Nob Hill resident Michael Meniktas said.

City planners have received a number of letters and e-mails from residents urging they preserve the Tonga Room.

The hotel has signed a letter of intent with a local restaurateur who will buy the Tonga Room and move it to a new site.

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