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At the Capitol Skyline Hotel, It's Time for a Pool Party

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By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 15, 2009

Morris Lapidus -- the late, great Googie master of South Beach-style architecture -- was hired to design the Skyline Inn motor hotel in 1961, which is why it looks so spaceshippy, like it crash-landed six blocks south of the U.S. Capitol and failed utterly in its mission of alien invasion. By the 1970s, the hotel was thought of as ugly and so was the neighborhood.

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This exact kind of ugly is perfect now.

But not retro!

The present owners? The somewhat famous Rubell family? They'll tell you how they hate putting quotation marks -- a knowing (") with a (") -- around what they're doing to the Capitol Skyline Hotel. They hate putting quotation marks around fun. That's the worst, when people act too cool, when there's a VIP list, when cocktails at a hotel pool get jacked up to $14 apiece and the DJ thinks he's the oonce-oonce-oonce messiah. They know there's a fine line here -- they're from Miami -- when the decor and atmosphere go too far toward the stylized. That's what the Rubells didn't want to happen here.

"It was a Best Western," says Jennifer Rubell, 39. "And there was nothing wrong with that. We liked it that way. . . . When we bought the hotel, it was a little bit like those English manor houses, where people end up living in the two rooms left that function? There were parts of the hotel that [the former owner] had just closed off -- the banquet rooms, the restaurants -- shut down, not functioning. If there was ever a problem in a room, then they would just close that room down and not use it."

The pool? It was huge but sad. Guests swam in it forlornly, in perfunctory laps. There were cracks all over the concrete deck, which was painted the standard chlorine greeny blue of YMCA pools. (People griped about it in their one-star reviews at online travel sites.)

"We were waiting for the neighborhood," says Jennifer's mother, Mera Rubell. "That's what you do, you wait for it. You wait for that moment where everything starts to happen."

This is what we talk about over ginger-rose sangria by the Skyline's completely refurbished, totally Lapidus, smartly decorated swimming pool and patio. There are rows and rows of brand-new lounge chairs, each adorned with a bright orange towel.

This is a few days before everyone found out about the Rubells' pool and the Skyline became cool again.

This is when summer in Washington started to happen.

* * *

The hotel pool! It's a transporter device. Not for hard-core swimming, not for athleticism, but for feeling, for glamorous repose on the (somewhat) cheap. Reading magazines by the hotel pool. Ordering drinks by it. Pretending to be a model by it. Pretending it's anyplace else, anytime else, because it is.


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