Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
An impressive lobby can't compensate for worn rooms and so-so service, though the hotel's proximity to a BART station is a plus.
Built in 1910, the Hotel Whitcomb served as City Hall from 1912 to 1915 after the real one was destroyed by a major earthquake. The next year it opened to guests and has anchored the corner of Market and 8th Streets ever since, just a block away from the current-day Civic Center Plaza and a long hike from the Embarcadero waterfront. The 459-room property is member of the Historic Hotels of America, but unlike the city's many other iconic hotels -- the more expensive Palace or Westin St. Francis, for example -- the Whitcomb has let time pass it by. It's now a disappointing place, even at the below-market rates it usually offers. The Holiday Inn Civic Center around the corner is a better bet -- as are more modern places in this part of town like the Phoenix and the Good Hotel.
The rooms are spacious but dingy. The non-smoking king room had dusty moldings, frayed carpets, chipped paint, and scuzzy glassware. The bathroom was missing a shower curtain upon check-in -- though housekeeping later brought one by unprompted -- and had its share of dust and some rusty vanity fixtures. The one saving grace was a surprisingly comfortable bed. Though the hotel advertises "free high-speed Internet," the Wi-Fi connection was so slow that it had trouble streaming YouTube and Hulu videos, tasks that are effortless at dozens of other San Francisco hotels. Even with minor improvements since Oyster's stay -- the hotel has replaced some furniture in the rooms, new headboards, desks, and reading chairs can be found in some, but not all, rooms -- the hotel still feels grimy.
A satisfying roster of amenities and features might compensate for the lackluster rooms and the long, musty, dimly lit hallways, but the Whitcomb doesn't offer much. A small fitness center has equipment that could've been scavenged third-hand from eBay. Locals wouldn't be caught dead in the stodgy on-site restaurant, though an attached Starbucks has the usual selection of coffee, snacks, and sandwiches. The front desk staff is knowledgeable about local attractions, if casual; it's anyone's guess as to whether a bellman or doorman will be around when you pass through the ornate lobby, which is admittedly impressive thanks to Austrian crystal chandeliers, ostentatious furnishings, and marble columns.
On a seedy stretch of Market Street, removed from many of the city's top attractions
On Market Street, the hotel sits between the Civic Center area to the north -- featuring the Asian Art Museum, Orpheum Theatre, and Bill Graham auditorium -- and SoMa -- and its clubs and restaurants popular among locals -- to the south. Nevertheless, the immediate area is seedy, even by San Francisco standards, and gets eerily quiet at night. Union Square this is not.
Indeed guests find themselves far removed from most of the city's top tourist attractions. It's a 30-minute walk to the Ferry Building and Embarcadero, and Fisherman's Wharf is a 15-minute cab ride away. Luckily, the Whitcomb is on top of a BART station, so escaping the area is as easy as hopping a train.
A historic, but well-past-its-prime, 459-room hotel that once served as San Francisco's City Hall, the Whitcomb is stuck in the past with dingy and dirty rooms, lackluster features, and dark, musty hallways. The Holiday Inn Civic Center or Good Hotel are better bets in this seedy neighborhood.