A Sweet Escape
How a chocolate factory turned resort maintains its integrity.
The Fairmont Heritage Place, Ghirardelli Square, with its suites overlooking San Francisco Bay, is in a structure that wasn’t always a luxury hotel. The 19th-century redbrick waterfront building anchoring San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square used to be the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory. Now surrounded by shops and restaurants, the square, with its iconic Ghirardelli sign, is a popular destination. Rick Houston, regional vice president of residential operations in the Americas at AccorHotels, describes the benefits and challenges of repurposing an urban industrial landmark.
“The reuse of a historic space provides significant advantage over new developments,” Houston says. Such buildings are attractive to owners and guests, and historic context is a key differentiator for resorts in developing credibility and loyalty without having to start from scratch—provided developers remain true to that history.
An old building—especially one not designed as a resort—can be a double-edged sword. Ghirardelli Square was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, which brought additional restrictions and layers of approvals that complicated development. Poorly insulated windows were deemed historic and irreplaceable. As a result, the developers had to retrofit insulation and soundproofing materials around the existing windows.
The need to preserve the building’s bones had an upside as well, though, Houston says, as “the developers had the ability to use the original exposed brick, wood beams, and concrete floors to create a clean slate for the development of a modern interior with a historic shell.” For developers who want to take on such a project, he advises patience and commitment. “It will take longer and cost more than traditional development projects, but by bringing aboard a team that is experienced in working on these types of projects and by embracing the historic nature of the building,” he says, “you will be on the right path to a successful development.”
Image credit: Courtesy of Fairmont Heritage Place