2007-01-18 17:55:10 UTC
Carl Nolte, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Peter Petri was a man who carried the luggage of the rich and famous
with such style that he became a San Francisco institution himself.
Mr. Petri welcomed travelers and San Franciscans to the St. Francis
hotel for 61 years and three months, first as an elevator operator and
then, after World War II, as the hotel's premier bellman. Mr. Petri,
who retired when he turned 80 in 1996, died of congestive heart
failure on Christmas Eve at the age of 90.
There will be a celebration of his long life and times Thursday at 3
p.m. at Victor's Palace at the St. Francis.
"People were always glad to see him. He welcomed people from all over
the world to the St. Francis,'' said his son, Michael Petri, who
carries on the family tradition by being a doorman at the hotel.
"He knew people from all over the world,'' Michael Petri said, "and
the whole world comes to San Francisco.''
Mr. Petri carried bags for everyone who was anyone in his day --
presidents, movie stars, foreign dignitaries, celebrities and regular
guests. He also assisted San Franciscans in the days when the St.
Francis had permanent guests who made their home in the hotel.
Some of the more famous guests would need two or three bellmen to help
with all their bags. Mr. Petri's guests included Presidents Dwight
Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and celebrities
like Bette Davis, Jack Dempsey, Bing Crosby, John Wayne, Marilyn
Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Jean Harlow, Perry Como, Merv Griffin and
Mr. Petri had a number of stories about his famous guests. Bette
Davis, he told a hotel industry magazine once, was "a very moody
person.'' John Wayne sent him out to get a bottle of liquor and then
invited Mr. Petri to have a drink with him. Mr. Petri hesitated at
first, because drinking on the job was strictly against the rules.
But, said the younger Petri, it was difficult to refuse to have a
drink with the likes of John Wayne.
Mr. Petri also had other requests from the famous. Jean Harlow sent
him out to buy a lot of milk so she could take a milk bath; Marilyn
Monroe wanted a lot of ice, to keep her famous chest cool and firm.
There were other stories about celebrities that Mr. Petri kept to himself.
"He would tell stories to a certain extent,'' Michael Petri said, but
when asked for more tales of the rich and famous, he would say, 'I'm
going to take that one with me.' ''
Sometimes, his silences were golden. "You don't want to talk about
Nixon,'' he said of the former president.
"Discretion was the better part of valor for him,'' his son said.
Mr. Petri was born in Lucca, Italy, in 1916 and came to the United
States when he was 11. His family settled in San Francisco's North
Beach area. In 1935, he went to work for the St. Francis Hotel as an
elevator operator. He was paid $2.80 a day.
He sometimes filled in on bellman shifts and soon became a regular on
Mr. Petri served in the U.S. Army during World War II in both
California and Europe.
He returned to the St. Francis, this time as a senior bellman, after
the war. He remembered those years fondly, his son said, especially
the era when the St. Francis washed its coins so that ladies would not
have to soil their white gloves with dirty money.
Monday nights were special for a fashion show in the Mural Room that
attracted an audience that was formally dressed -- the men in tails
and top hats, the women in evening gowns.
The St. Francis was "the place to be," he said. "It was the center of
Mr. Petri decided it was "time to get out'' when he reached the
60-year mark, but he stayed another year and three months. "He enjoyed
his work,'' said his son. "It was fun to him.''
He loved to ride horses all his life and he retired to Redding where
he could ride regularly.
In addition to his son Michael of Santa Rosa, Mr. Petri is survived by
two daughters, Sandra Belstler of El Dorado Hills in Placer County,
and Roxanne Turkovich of Redding; by his sister, Alberta "Bea" Crispi
of Oakland; and by five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Stuff Up the Cracks
Stuff Up the Cracks