Image: The Fairmont San Francisco
Courtesy of The Fairmont San Francisco
The penthouse atop The Fairmont San Francisco spans the entire length of the building, offering panoramic views from its 6,000-square-foot interior. Cost? $15,000 per night.
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updated 11/6/2011 8:06:02 AM ET 2011-11-06T13:06:02

Is there anything more alluring than an elevator button marked “PH”? With the possible exception of an unopened Champagne bottle, we think not.

As the hotel’s showpiece, the penthouse packs more “wow” and attracts more boldface guests than any other room. It’s also a breeding ground for bespoke amenities and impressive extras — the least of which is the view.

Slideshow: 10 stunning hotel penthouses

It hasn’t always been this way. Before the elevator was invented, buildings’ top floors were relegated to servants. Then industrialist Elisha Otis debuted his lift in 1852, and everything changed.

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By the Roaring Twenties, skylines were shooting up on both coasts, and tycoons realized hot real estate was up in the air. They began commissioning rooftop residences, and the penthouse was born.

American Trust Company president John S. Drum was among the first to see the appeal of living within a hotel, commissioning a penthouse in San Francisco’s historic Fairmont. Architect Arthur Upham Pope completed it, and Drum leased it for $1,000 per month. The Fairmont’s groundbreaking penthouse remains as opulent and impressive as ever, but much has changed industry-wide.

Hotels go head-to-head each year to out-luxe the competition. A private entrance was once considered a nice touch; now it’s required. Butler service is the order of the day. Frette linens? De rigueur.

The most enticing new development in the penthouse craze is its global expansion. From Istanbul to Cape Town and back again, travelers are never too far from a terrace of their own. Take, for example, the Presidential Suite Penthouse at the Hasseler Roma, in Rome. The outdoor space is appointed with citrus trees and 360-degree views of the city. For the best in luxury travel, you need only look up.

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Copyright © 2012 American Express Publishing Corporation

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