The Willard InterContinental Washington is a historic luxury Beaux-Arts hotel located at 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C. Among its facilities are numerous luxurious guest rooms, several restaurants, the famed Round Robin Bar, the Peacock Alley series of luxury shops, and voluminous function rooms. It is two blocks east of the White House, and two blocks west of the Metro Center station.
The first structures to be built at 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW were six small houses constructed by Colonel John Tayloe III in 1816. Tayloe leased the six buildings to Joshua Tennison, who named them Tennison’s Hotel.
The structures served as a hotel for the next three decades, the leaseholder name changing it several times: Williamson’s Mansion Hotel, Fullers American House, and the City Hotel. By 1847, the structures were in disrepair and Tayloe’s son, Benjamin Ogle Tayloe, was desperate to find a tenant who would maintain The Willard as it stands today.
Henry Willard leased the six buildings in 1847, combined them into a single structure, and enlarged it into a four-story hotel. He 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. Hardenberg was the architect of two of New York City’s most iconic and enduring buildings, the 2nd Hotel Plaza and the Dakota apartment building (were John Lennon lived and was assassinated in front of).
The Willard Hotel flying the presidential flag in the 1920s, indicating the President of the United States was on the premises.
For decades, it was the only major D.C. hotel so close to the White House and United States capitol building, and housed many dignitaries during its history.
The first group of three Japanese ambassadors to the United States stayed at the Willard with seventy-four other delegates in 1860. They observed that their hotel room was more luxurious than the U.S. Secretary of State‘s house. 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Six sitting Vice-Presidents have lived in the Willard. Millard Fillmore and Thomas A. Hendricks, during his brief time in office, lived in the old Willard; and then four successive Vice-Presidents, James S. Sherman, Thomas R. Marshall, Calvin Coolidge and finally Charles Dawes all lived in the current building for at least part of their vice-presidency.
Fillmore and Coolidge continued in the Willard, even after becoming president, to allow the first family time to move out of the White House.
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.
On September 23, 1987, Bob Fosse collapsed in his room at the Willard and later died. 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.
It’s interior spaces are of immense beauty and exude luxurious ambience.
Out front across from Pershing Park are the the hotel’s outdoor sidewalk cafes.
Pershing Park just across Pennsylvania Avenue adds great outdoor ambience.
It is a magical place 12 months of the year, but hits its peak during the Holiday season.
Visit their official homepage at washington.intercontinental.com