SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — He has been called the most photographed man in San Francisco. If true, it’s a title he’s held for more than 40 years.
Tom Sweeney, the iconic Beefeater-clad doorman of Union Square, is retiring this weekend after a part-time job unexpectedly turned into a career.
“Back in 1976 my mom knew the general manager of the hotel,” Sweeney explained. “I was just gonna do it for the summer. San Francisco Fire and Police, I got called to go into that job, but this job was so exciting. I’m a greeter, a porter, a guide, a ringmaster, a constable, a valet, and a concierge all in an eight-hour shift. Not too many people can say they have a Hollywood Walk of Fame on the streets of San Francisco.”
Sweeney is standing on a plaque that commemorating his tenure at this spot in front of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. In the signature Beefeater uniform, he’s hard to miss.
“I’ve been through 36 uniforms,” Sweeney says. “My first one cost $600, and now they’re $3,000. The cable car was only $.75, now it’s $8.00.”
In that time the job has landed him right in the middle of just about everything.
“I’ve shaken hands with all the Presidents of the United States,” Sweeney laughed. “There are so many movie stars, and all the baseball teams used to stay here. In 1982, I was working and I tackled two robbers on this job. That’s what is so exciting; you never know what’s gonna happen. It’s like being in the news business. You never know what story you’re running on.”
He has more stories than we have time to recount, but this was also a job.
“43 years I had to wake up every Sunday and Monday at 5:30 in the morning,” he said. “I won’t miss that at all.”
He says there are some tricks to the trade.
“You never wanna miss Sunday on this job,” Sweeney said of his scattered schedule which had him always working early on Sunday and Monday when he would catch guests checking out.
“And then I catch them on Thursday when they check in, so there’s a lot of psychology in this job,” continued Sweeney. “Just go out there, 110% every day, just treat everybody the same. I’m dealing with millionaires and people that don’t have money but you treat them all the same and it all works out in the end.”
The job vacancy that will be created on Sunday is a highly competitive one. Sweeney says a number of people are vying for the prestigious job he originally took on as a summer job. While he plans to keep moving in retirement, he is ready to give up the uniform.
“I guess it’s like a football player, you got to hang it up sometimes,” Sweeney said. “I used to come down here with my parents and I saw this guy. I never thought I’d be the guy. It looks like I did OK.”