Iconic San Francisco Hotel Could Get Name Change

Megan Goldsby
July 31, 2020 - 11:45 am

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    The iconic Sir Francis Drake hotel in San Francisco’s Union Square is reportedly mulling a name change, as the 16th century explorer’s name has been disappearing across the Bay Area.

    While Drake is best remembered for circumnavigating the globe and crushing the Spanish Armada, a lesser known part of his life is gaining attention.

    "There are estimates that he captured and traded between 1,200 and 1,400 slaves. There is nobody that says he was not involved in the slave trade," said Brandon Johnson, organizer of the activist group Change the Name. He said Drake also forced native people from their homes on the west coast, creating a legacy that is not worthy of honor.

    A 30-foot statue of Sir Francis Drake at Larkspur Landing has been put into storage and the Marin County high school named after Drake is shedding the name entirely. The name changes are part of a wider national movement to recognize America’s dark history of colonialism and slavery and reevaluate the lives of celebrated historical figures through that lens.

    "You can tell that the momentum is kind of at that critical mass and great things are happening," said Johnson, an alumni of the school. 

    Now Kimpton Hotels, which manages the Union Square icon, is considering a name change as well. "Kimpton has been working with property ownership to evaluate a name change and potential rebranding of the property," a spokesperson said in a statement to KCBS Radio.

    "That’s something that we certainly believe should not be at a public school, shouldn’t be in a public place and I think that folks who have had the name, privately owned places, it’s a good thing for them to remove that name as well. It’s just damaging to folks of color, especially African Americans and Indigenous people," said Johnson.

    The hotel is famous for doormen dressed as beefeaters who stand out front.

    But because of the coronavirus pandemic, the beefeaters are gone and the entrance and windows are boarded up, and the possible name change could mean that when the hotel reopens, it will be with a new identity.

    "I think it is fantastic that they’re looking at that, and I think that anywhere that name is, it should be taken down," Johnson said. "When white supremacy is the norm in the environment itself, you’re almost getting a little bit of that just by osmosis."