With things slowly (maybe?) opening/reopening this Christmas, I went around downtown San Francisco and the surrounding area to check out the “big name” decorations. Mostly I was curious to see if this year seemed at all normal again.
Obviously normal is relative at this point; I’m well aware of the many downtown retail closures like H&M, Uniqlo, The Gap, etc. But I went in fully expecting those changes.
As usual the new half of the Westfield SF Centre mall has an upside-down Christmas tree shaped decoration hanging under the historic dome.
Sadly, the so-called “Restaurant Collection Under the Dome” on this level is now entirely vacant. Even before the pandemic this concept never seemed successful. The last high profile restaurant to pull out was Martin Yan’s M.Y. China.
Meanwhile at the 1980’s half of the mall with its twisty escalators, a set of bright white snowflakes dangle down from the top of the Nordstrom level.
Or maybe you don’t think it looks like snow? I grew up with this 1980’s mall aesthetic and that’s my interpretation, make of that what you will.
It wouldn’t be fair to discuss historic glass domes with Christmas decorations without a visit to Neiman Marcus. The hula hoop style tree shaped decor hangs over the cosmetics counter just inside the entrance.
This glass dome dates back to the City of Paris department store which once stood here. Much like the Westfield SF Center, the glass dome is the only element of the original building that remains today.
While the City of Paris used to sponsor downtown’s “official” Christmas tree, that burden has now fallen on Macy’s. In addition to the tree on Union Square, the temporary ice skating rink is back as well this year.
One part of Union Square is slowly being unwrapped as though it were a late and very overdue Christmas present: the new entrance to Union Square Station is now visible through the fencing. The latest timeline says this station will open next fall, but this entire subway was originally slated to open in *checks notes* the year 2008 so adjust your expectations accordingly.
I was too cheap to pay for a cable car ride so I hiked all the way up Nob Hill to see the decorations at the original Fairmont Hotel. The lobby was crowded with people taking photos of the tree and the gingerbread house overlay of the restaurant. It was tough to get any clear photos.
It’s never mentioned by name but the Fairmont Hotel appears prominently in Disney/Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. I have to wonder if that’s brought any additional visitors this year, or if I’m the only one who noticed.
On the opposite end of both downtown and the California St. cable car line is the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero.
This lobby has a Christmas tree — one lonely, small Christmas tree. But I think you’d need to chop down a small forest to fill even 10% of the massive atrium.
Honestly I think they’d be better off skipping the tree and filling this enormous indoor cavern with some lights or other effects. Otherwise the mismatch of scale between the tree and the atrium will always look out of balance.
In the end I think it’s safe to say that even if COVID-19 has disrupted another holiday season, at least it’s starting to look normal. I’m not sure that’s all we need right now, but realistically it’s the most we can hope for.