The Willard Hotel, Washington DC

Date added: June 13, 2016 Categories: Washington DC Hotel Second Empire

Both the site and the present building have a long history of entertaining Presidents, statesmen and other important people. In 1816 John Tayloe built six three-story buildings at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th Street to be used as private residences. As early as 1818, however, at least one of them was leased as a hotel. For the next twenty-nine years the buildings housed a number of hotel establishments. During this time the building that became the original hotel was built. In 1847 Henry A. and Edwin D. Willard came to Washington to lease what was by then the 40 room old CITY HOTEL from the owner Benjamin O. Tayloe. At this time the name was changed to the "Willard Hotel". Two years later Edwin left and was replaced by brother Joseph C. Willard. Henry and Joseph continued to lease the property until 1853, when they purchased it from the Tayloe family and extended the building up 14th Street. In 1858, with the purchase of the property at 14th and F Streets and the further extension of the building, the "Willard Hotel" now had 100 rooms. Management problems arose, however, and in 1883, Joseph bought his brother Henry's interest in the business.

Located only a block from the White House the "Willard" was host to a variety of people. When the Japanese Treaty Embassy made its first visit to the United States in 1860 it stayed at the "Willard". In 1861, the last Peace Conference prior to the outbreak of the Civil War was held at the "Willard". Julia Ward Howe, a guest in 1861, wrote the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" while staying there.

Nathanial Hawthorne, covering the Civil War for the Atlantic Monthly, wrote: "This hotel, in fact, may be much more justly called the center of Washington and Union than either the Capital, the White House or the State Department.... You exchange nods with governors of sovereign States; you elbow illustrious men, and tread on the toes of generals; you hear statesmen and orators speaking in their familiar tones. You are mixed up with office-seekers, wire-pullers, inventors, artists, poets, prosers, you adopt the universal habit of the place and call for a mint-julip, a whiskey-skin, a gin-cocktail, a brandy-mash or a glass of pure old Rye, for the conviviality of Washington sets in at an early hour and all these drinks are continually in request by almost all these people."

An ever increasing demand for hotel space prompted Joseph's son, Joseph E. Willard, to make plans for a new hotel. He waited, however, until his father's death in 1897. The first phase of the NEW WILLARD HOTEL opened in 1901, with tremendous fanfare.

The 1904 section further expanded the entertainment and boarding facilities of the hotel. Presidents Roosevelt through Nixon frequented the hotels and Vice Presidents Marshall, Coolidge and Dawes lived there during their terms in office. In 1917-1918 the hotel was the headquarters for the delegations to the Disarmament Conference after World War I. The building became a National Historic Site in 1927. In 1946 the Willard family sold the hotel to Maxwell Abbell of Chicago, a hotel chain owner. At this time the "New" was dropped from the name of the hotel. The hotel continued to draw important guests as well as travelers to Washington until it closed its doors in 1968.

After falling into disrepair and scheduled for demolition, it was rescued in the early 1980s, restored, and reopened in 1986.