Washington’s oldest hotel, the Harrington, inspires memories from longtime guests

John Kelly
Columnist March 11

Washington’s Hotel Harrington may not exert the same pull on guests as does the Hotel California — I’m pretty sure you can check out from the Harrington and leave — but it does occupy a warm place in the hearts of many past customers.

My column last week about the Harrington’s 100th anniversary — it’s the oldest continuously operating hostelry in town — brought back memories from readers such as Estelle Guttman.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

In 1951, Estelle was a teenager attending Brooklyn College. She and two friends wanted to see Washington.

“Needless to say, none of us had very much money to spend,” wrote Estelle, who now lives in Reston. “We took the train to Union Station and stayed at the Harrington, three girls in one room. . . . In advance we knew the hours each museum was open, and every place was free so our days started at 8 a.m. and we kept going until evening. Mostly we ate at public cafeterias in government buildings or luncheonettes. We crammed so much into those three days and had an absolutely memorable wonderful trip on a shoestring. It was the first trip I ever took.”

Dorothy Todd grew up in West Virginia. Her family took two memorable trips to Washington, in 1947 and 1955. They stayed at the Harrington, ate at the hotel’s Kitcheteria and saw, for the first time, the glory of television.

“I am a collector of odds and ends and I have in my collection hotel stationary from the Harrington from the 1955 trip as well as the receipt,” wrote Dorothy, who now lives in Manassas. “We spent two nights and the price per night was $9.50. With a tax of 29 cents per night the total came to $19.58!”

Television was an attraction for Andy Thebo of Bethesda, too — not watching it, but being on it. In the late 1940s, Andy was editor of the Scholastic Sports Association, which had a TV show transmitted from the WTTG studio in the Harrington. In those early days of broadcasting, only one house in his neighborhood had a TV set, “so all my family had to go up the street to watch ‘little brother’ on the ‘new’ medium,” Andy wrote. “Much fun.”

Carol Rife of Bel Alton, Md., remembers broadcasting of a different sort from the Hotel Harrington. Her mother worked as a telephone operator at Perpetual Savings and Loan across E Street from the hotel. It was not uncommon for teenage boys in Washington on school trips to open the curtains and moon the women.

Boys will be boys, I suppose. They certainly were on the trip that Luanne Turrentine took in the spring of 1967. The Hotel Harrington was where students from her high school in Hector, Minn. — population 1,500 — stayed on their senior class trip to New York City and Washington.

“We travelled by train from Minnesota to New York and then to Washington and were having a great time,” wrote Luanne, who now lives in Centreville. “However, when we got to Washington a couple of my enterprising male classmates took it upon themselves to leave a pair of inflatable legs (inflated, of course) sticking out from under a bed in their room in the Harrington. This caused an uproar with the cleaning staff and hotel management and resulted in three of my classmates being sent home early on another train with one of the (very unhappy) class advisors.

“The incident has never been totally forgotten in Hector, although I hope the Hotel Harrington has had a shorter memory.”

Is your school reuniting?

And while we’re on the subject of high school memories: Is your school planning a reunion in the coming months? Let me know, and I’ll try to get the word out in my column. Send an e-mail — with “Reunion” in the subject line — to me at john.kelly@washpost.com. Include the school, year, date of the event and contact information.

Shoot a squirrel!

Do you have what it takes to capture a squirrel — with your camera? My annual Squirrel Week is just around the corner. This year, we’re throwing a squirrel photography contest. To upload your entry — one per reader — go to wapo.st/squirrelcontest.

I’ll post my favorites online, and the grand-prize winner will receive a $100 gift card. To read the complete contest rules, go to wapo.st/squirrelcontestrules.

The deadline is March 28, so get snapping.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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