Sunday, March 6, 2011

View From the Willard

By Lynne Brandon

It stands majestically on Pennsylvania Avenue and dominates the landscape with its elegant stone facade imposing alongside some of America’s most historic monuments. Inside the iconic Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, D.C. words were coined, drinks first stirred and national treasures first written about. Every living president since Zachary Taylor has placed his mark on the palatial quarters as a guest or by attending a social event, leaving an imprimatur on this national treasure.

The imposing 12-story structure is connected to all that makes Washington tick with easy accessibility to the White House, Treasury, Newspaper Row, the Capitol and other significant monuments. When the hotel was revamped in 1925, it was considered Washington’s first skyscraper.

Founded in 1850 by brothers Henry and Edwin Willard, the hotel immediately took its place as a social and political force in Washington. From the beginning, political heavyweights have met at the Willard to recap the day’s events, plot strategy or attend a Presidential inauguration. The tradition continues.

Early on, creative juices flowed at The Willard from the city’s first Mint Julep mixed by Kentucky Senator Henry Clay in the hotel’s Round Robin bar, becoming the hotel’s signature cocktail, to the penning here of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” by then unknown Julia Ward Stowe.

In the midst of war, The Willard inspired writer Walt Whitman who immortalized the bar in poetic prose to stir the Union troops. Writer Nathaniel Hawthorne commented on the hotel and its place in history, Charles Dickens stayed as a guest and Mark Twain finished two books while staying at the Willard. The stone monument even affects our modern day vocabulary. The word “lobbyist” was first used from the many power brokers who pressed their causes to president Ulysses S. Grant.

It’s not just a place for politicians. Johnny Depp stayed at the hotel while filming “The Rumrunner” in 2010, and Tom Cruise filmed a famous scene for “The Minority Report” from the Jenny Lind Suite.

Today a walk into the sumptuous lobby connects visitors with the past and creates new memories for all who enter. At the Willard newlyweds are treated like royalty in the most intimate space in the hotel, the Jenny Lind Suite, named after the popular Swedish opera singer. The 950-square foot suite features a large reception/sitting area, an exquisite wrought iron canopy bed and over-sized bathroom with a sunken Jacuzzi that marries luxury with history for a breathtaking view of the Washington monument.

No other American hotel combines the richness of yesterday with today’s elegance and amenities like the renowned Willard. Mark your place in history and see for yourself.

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