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Willard Hotel

Willard Hotel
Willard InterContinental Washington
Location 1401-1409 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C., U.S.

38°53′47.22″N 77°1′56.46″W / 38.8964500°N 77.0323500°W / 38.8964500; -77.0323500Coordinates: 38°53′47.22″N 77°1′56.46″W / 38.8964500°N 77.0323500°W / 38.8964500; -77.0323500

Built Original six structures: 1816[1]
Unified structure: 1847[2]
Current structure: 1901[3]
Architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh (hotel)[3]
Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates and Vlastimil Koubek, annex
Architectural style Beaux-Arts[3]
NRHP Reference # 74002177
Added to NRHP February 15, 1974

The Willard


The first structures to be built at 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW were six small houses constructed by Colonel John Tayloe III in 1816.[1] Tayloe leased the six buildings to Joshua Tennison, who named them Tennison's Hotel.[1][6] The structures served as a hotel for the next three decades, the leaseholder and name changing several times: Williamson's Mansion Hotel, Fullers American House, and the City Hotel.[6] By 1847, the structures were in disrepair and Tayloe's son, Benjamin Ogle Tayloe, was desperate to find a tenant who would maintain the structures and run them profitably.[7]

The Willard Hotel was formally founded by Henry Willard when he leased the six buildings in 1847, combined them into a single structure, and enlarged it into a four-story hotel he renamed the Willard Hotel.[2][7][8] Willard purchased the hotel property from Benjamin Tayloe in 1864, but a dispute over the purchase price and the form of payment (paper currency or gold coin) led to a major equity lawsuit which ended up in the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court split the difference in Willard v. Tayloe. 75 U.S. 557 (1869): The purchase price would remain the same, but Willard must pay in gold coin (which had not depreciated in value the way paper currency had).

The present 12-story structure, designed by famed hotel architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, opened in 1901.[3][4] It suffered a major fire in 1922 which caused $250,000 ($3,522,366 as of 2014),[9] in damages.[10] Among those who had to be evacuated from the hotel were Vice President Calvin Coolidge, several U.S. senators, composer John Philip Sousa, motion picture producer Adolph Zukor, newspaper publisher Harry Chandler, and numerous other media, corporate, and political leaders who were present for the annual Gridiron Dinner.[10] For many years the Willard was the only hotel from which one could easily visit all of downtown Washington, and consequently it has housed many dignitaries during its history.

The Willard family sold its share of the hotel in 1946, and due to mismanagement and the severe decline of the area, the hotel closed in 1968. The building sat vacant for years, and numerous plans were floated for its demolition. It eventually fell into a semi-public receivership and was sold to the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation. They held a competition to rehabilitate the property and ultimately awarded it to the Oliver Carr Company and Golding Associates.[11] The two partners then brought in the InterContinental Hotels Group to be a part owner and operator of the hotel. The Willard was subsequently restored to its turn-of-the-century elegance and an office-building contingent was added. The hotel was thus re-opened amid great celebration on August 20, 1986, which was attended by several U.S. Supreme Court justices and U.S. senators. In the late 1990s, the hotel once again underwent significant restoration.

Famous guests

The first group of three Japanese ambassadors to the United States stayed at the Willard with seventy-four other delegates in 1860, where they observed that their hotel room was more luxurious than the U.S. Secretary of State's house.[12] It was the first time an official Japanese delegation traveled to a foreign destination, and many tourists and journalists gathered to see the sword-carrying Japanese.[13]

From February 4 to February 27, 1861, the Peace Congress, featuring delegates from 21 of the 34 states, met at the Willard in a last-ditch attempt to avert the Civil War. A plaque from the Virginia Civil War Commission, located on the Pennsylvania Ave. side of the hotel, commemorates this courageous effort. Later that year, upon hearing a Union regiment singing John Brown's Body as they marched beneath her window, Julia Ward Howe wrote the lyrics to The Battle Hymn of the Republic while staying at the hotel in November 1861.[4]

On February 23, 1861, amid several assassination threats, detective Allan Pinkerton smuggled Abraham Lincoln into the Willard during the weeks before his inauguration; there Lincoln lived until his inauguration on March 4, holding meetings in the lobby and carrying on business from his room.[14]

On March 27, 1874, the Northern and Southern Orders of Chi Phi met at the Willard to unite as the Chi Phi Fraternity. Many United States presidents have frequented the Willard, and every president since Franklin Pierce has either slept in or attended an event at the hotel at least once; the hotel hence is also known as "the residence of presidents."[15] It was the habit of Ulysses S. Grant to drink whiskey and smoke a cigar while relaxing in the lobby. Folklore (promoted by the hotel) holds that this is the origin of the term "lobbying," as Grant was often approached by those seeking favors. However, this is probably false, as Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary dates the verb to lobby to 1837. Plans for Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations took shape when he held meetings of the League to Enforce Peace in the hotel's lobby in 1916. Woodrow Wilson's Vice President, Thomas R. Marshall, lived at the hotel during his tenure in that office, as did his successor Calvin Coolidge.

Several hundred officers, many of them combat veterans of World War I, first gathered with the General of the Armies, John J. "Blackjack" Pershing, at the Willard Hotel on October 2, 1922, and formally established the Reserve Officers Association (ROA) as an organization.[16]

The first recorded meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research was convened at the Willard on May 7, 1907.[17]

Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in his hotel room at the Willard in 1963 in the days before his March on Washington.[4]

On September 23, 1987, it was reported that Bob Fosse collapsed in his room at the Willard and later died. It was subsequently learned that he actually died at George Washington University Hospital.

Among the Willard's many other famous guests are P. T. Barnum, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, General Tom Thumb, Samuel Morse, the Duke of Windsor, Harry Houdini, Gypsy Rose Lee, Gloria Swanson, Emily Dickinson, Jenny Lind, Charles Dickens, Bert Bell, Joe Paterno, and Jim Sweeney.[18][19]

Steven Spielberg shot the finale of his film Minority Report at the hotel in the summer of 2001. He filmed with Tom Cruise and Max von Sydow in the Willard Room, Peacock Alley and the kitchen. A replica of the terraced roof of the office building, seen in the photo above, was constructed on a soundstage for the final scene.[20]

On February 22, 2012, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd gave a dramatic resignation speech in the hotel's Douglas Room.[21]




  • Burlingame, Michael. With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865. Carbondale, Ill.: SIU Press, 2006.
  • Denby, Elaine. Grand Hotels: Reality and Illusion. London: Reaktion Books, 2004.
  • Hogarth, Paul. Walking Tours of Old Washington and Alexandria. McLean, Va.: EPM Publications, 1985.
  • Moeller, Gerard Martin and Weeks, Christopher. AIA Guide to the Architecture of Washington, D.C. 4th ed. Baltimore: JHU Press, 2006.
  • "Notables Routed By Top Floor Fire In Willard Hotel." New York Times. April 24, 1922.
  • Knoxville, Tenn.: H.W. Crew & Co., 1914.
  • 1917.

External links

  • Willard InterContinental Washington
  • NPR interview with Barbara Bahny, public relations director at the historic Willard Hotel
  • Willard InterContinental: Sustainable Development Initiative
  • View menu of the Willard Hotel from 1861 at the University of Houston Digital Library
  • Ghosts of DC blog posts about The Willard Hotel - local D.C. history blog
  • SAH Archipedia Building Entry

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