Three Stories From Hotel Washington

Hotel Washington entrance
Hotel Washington entrance

If you’ve lived in D.C. for a while, you’ll remember the good old days when the W Hotel was actually Hotel Washington, the historic and storied hotel near the White House. I remember having quite a few pleasant lunches on the roof, with a spectacular view of the Washington Monument and the President’s house.

It was one of those hidden gems in the city that not everyone knew about. The prices were a little high for the subpar burgers or the “premium” Sam Adams, but it was all worth it for the view. Now, it’s a chichi New York-ish hangout. If that’s your thing, great, but I still remember the old Hotel Washington.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember when it was the talk of the town and it was a high-class hotel. I’m talking about back in 1918, when it was built, and through the 1920s. So, it’s time to add another “Three Things…” post to our collection and focus on one of Washington’s famous old hotels: The Hotel Washington.

1. Washington Hotel opens to guests

It was referred to in the papers interchangeably as The Washington Hotel and Hotel Washington. On opening day in 1918, it was the former, when The Washington Post published the following piece on April 5th.

The Washington, the National Capital’s newest big hotel, opened its doors last night. Although the formal opening will not be held for several days, the large number of visitors in the city seeking accommodation caused Robert S. Downs, president of the hotel company, to throw open 200 rooms and the main dining room.

The first guest to register was C. H. White, of Boise, Idaho. He wrote his name on the register at 6:30 o’clock and before midnight all rooms had been taken.

The Washington is of the most modern construction and is fireproof. Some of its features are a basement convention hall, seating 2,000 persons. A Spanish garden, a lounge, four private committee rooms, four private dining rooms, grill and coffee rooms.

A private ice plant in the subbasement will supply artificial ice for the ice-skating rink which is to be a summer feature of the roof garden.

I love that they call it “artificial ice,” and also, how crazy is it that there was an ice-skating rink on the roof in the summer! That seems a little excessive.

2. Coin collector vanishes with $13,000

Hotel Washington entrance 1937
Hotel Washington entrance 1937

Here’s a bizarre mystery from The Washington Post, printed on May 10th, 1960.

Daniel J. McBride, a coin dealers’ agent who checked in at the Hotel Washington the night of May 2 with $13,000 in cash, has been missing ever since.

The United States Attorney’s office and the police suspect foul play. There was more than $6000 in money orders waiting for him at the hotel, and they were left untouched.

Assistant United States Attorney Frank Stickle said the 31-year-old Atlanta, Ga., man, a husband and father, has not been seen nor heard from since he called his wife in Atlanta the night he arrived here.

He was here on business to purchase $2400 worth of newly-minted pennies for a coin dealer, Raymond Kotansky, of Streater, Ill.

The hotel took possession of his suitcase and the money orders awaiting him after three days. There was no evidence of violence in his room.

McBride and Kotansky were in the habit of talking to each other each day by phone, police said, and McBride called his wife and family in Atlanta each day. Mrs. McBride has not heard from him since he called the night he checked into the hotel. She has hired a private detective agency to investigate, and told a reporter last night that she shares the police fear that McBride had met with foul play.

In later newspapers, there is no mention of what happened to McBride. He just vanished …

3. The new Hotel Washington

Here’s an interesting article to end this post. It’s from The Washington Post on November 26th, 1916, before the hotel was built.

The resignation of Robert S. Downs as manager of the Shoreham Hotel has been followed by the announcement of his employment by the new hotel company that is to build on the site of the Corcoran building a 500-room hostelry to be known as the Hotel Washington, work which, it is declared will commence January 1, the tenants of the present building having been notified to vacate before that time.

Plans for the new hotel building call for a roof garden, a convention hall seating 2,000 people and a banquet hall seating 1,000. A handsome grill and cafe will be located in the basement, with entrance off Pennsylvania avenue, so avoiding the congestion usually experienced in hotels where such conveniences are located at the tops of the buildings. The building will be of 10 stories, with basement and subbasement, and there will be two main entrances, one on F and the other on Fifteenth street.

It is planned to make this one of the most perfectly equipped popular priced hotels in the country. The office, dining room, lounge, &c.,  will be on the F street entrance. A palm room is provided for an there will be six elevators to the chamber floors and roof garden. The rates will range from $1.50 to $4 per day. A number of pleasant suites are included in the arrangements.

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Hotel Washington in the 1970s
Hotel Washington in the 1970s

About Tom

Tom founded Ghosts of DC on January 4th, 2012 as a blog to uncover the lost and untold history of Washington, D.C. He has lived in the city for over a decade and loves exploring every corner of the District.

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