The grande dame of Washington hotels, the Mayflower, has been undergoing extensive restoration and renovation since 1981. Now a major portion of the $35 million project is complete with the recent opening of 200 guest rooms and suites with Italian marble baths, and the Promenade, the Grand Ballroom and the East, State and Chinese rooms.

With this project, the Mayflower's management wanted to combat the hotel's growing reputation for faded elegance and reaffirm its former position as one of Washington's luxury hotels. General manager Eric Ewoldt said that even though the Mayflower was a renowned landmark, the hotel "was out of date . . . the rooms were tired."

But with the renovation, the innkeepers once again consider themselves worthy of competing with other luxury hotels such as The Four Seasons and the Ritz-Carlton (formerly the Fairfax) Hotel, as well as with the Capitol Hilton, the Hyatt Regency and the Sheraton-Carlton. To survive in the Washington hotel market, Ewoldt says, a hotel has to be "competitive and first-class" and the Mayflower "wants to and will be in this market."

The restoration is being completed in phases to allow the hotel to remain open. The Board Room and second-floor meeting rooms were finished last year. Completion of the total project, including the lobby and restaurants, is scheduled for 1983.

The restoration project was begun prior to the installation of Stouffer Hotels as the Mayflower's new management in 1981. Stouffer and May-Wash Associates, a group of local business people, are general partners in the hotel.

Planners of the renovation project have done some much-needed technological updating but with an eye toward the hotel's majestic past.

A number of architectural features modified throughout the years since the Mayflower was built on the site of a former convent in 1925 will be converted to their original uses. Office space on the floor above the lobby, for example, will be converted to its original use as an open mezzanine. An expansive skylight hidden by a painted ceiling mural in the Presidential Room will be revealed.

A group of craftsmen and artisans was brought together to apply 24-karat gold leaf decoration, to clean and restore the crystal chandeliers, and restore the damaged ornamental relief sculpture and original brass railings.

The project goes beyond cosmetic and structural upgrading--the hotel is offering business guests secretarial services, a business center with telex and other information transferral systems, and special mail and telephone services. For international travelers, the hotel will provide foreign currency exchange, a multilingual staff, room directories in five languages, and international direct dialing.

When the project is complete, the hotel will have 721 guest rooms, two new restaurants and restored function rooms. The original number of 700 rooms was expanded by building two additional stories to the back portion of the hotel. About half of the guest rooms are being completely rebuilt and redesigned. CAPTION: Picture, Low-level look into recently completed second-floor foyer of the Mayflower hotel, currently undergoing a $35 million restoration. Photo by Craig Herndon -- The Washington Post