Marriott Corp. invoked the past in Gaithersburg yesterday -- historic railroads and depots, rumble-seated autos, Art Deco decors, symbolic gold keys and work-ethic exhortations -- as its way of marking the present: the opening of Marriott's 92nd hotel, No. 8 for the Washington area.

For the ceremonies, the Marriott Special, a two-car train provided by the Chessie System, carried President J.W. Marriott Jr., other Marriott executives, assorted government officials and Marriott-affiliated business people from D.C.'s historic-but-crumbling Union Station to Gaithersburg's historic-but-crumbling downtown train depot.

That depot, which city councilmember Edward Bohrer said is going to be renovated along with the rest of downtown Gaithersburg, is the subject of a specially commissioned Phil Metzger watercolor, presented by Marriott to the city during yesterday's festivities. The company tries to outdo itself on its hotel openings, which have been frequent this year.

The entourage rode vintage vehicles to the hotel, where founder and Chairman J. Willard Marriott Sr. vowed the company would do its part to help "the president's program of putting people to work" by opening 25 new hotels this year, each employing 300 to 500 people.

Amid ceremonial rail-spike driving and ribbon-cutting, Marriott followed two company traditions: presentation of U.S., state and company flags and symbolically throwing away the hotel's official key, this time by stashing it in a Chessie mail pouch and routing it to a West Virginia radio-station promotional.

Despite its stark exterior, the hotel has an eclectic air inside. Ornate, leaded-glass lilies give way to stylized, Deco-fabric lilies as guests pass from lobby to lounge to restaurant. The Gaithersburg operation has 301 rooms, two restaurants, two lounges and spa-like facilities, catering to the mobile, high-tech business crowd that it has chosen for neighbors in the booming Interstate 270 corridor.

Even some far-flung Marriott employes had wondered, "Where's Gaithersburg?" officials admitted yesterday. That translates, in investment terms, into "Why Gaithersburg?" As scores of new buildings began to appear out the train windows earlier yesterday, mortgage banker Jim Noland, broker for the real estate deal that's the basis for the new facility, had an answer.

When his firm, Land, Noland, Smith and Co. of Pittsburgh, did market research, it discovered that the D.C. metropolitan area -- including the I-270 strip -- had everything going for it and no listings under the minus column, something Noland said "must be unique" in the realm of development.