On Tuesday, the pianists were there to audition, but the white baby grand for the lobby wasn't. On Wednesday, news that the D.C. occupancy permit wouldn't be signed in time for the first guests to check in sent a chill through the staff.

Murphy's Law seemed to be everywhere last week at 1000 H St. NW at the Grand Hyatt Washington. With opening ceremonies set for tomorrow, many of the essentials of doing business were getting down to the wire for the 907-room hotel, the area's third largest.

Fingers were crossed that the two-story waterfall would be ready to flow into the 27,000-gallon lagoon in time for the opening, and 40 or more of the hotel management staff were working 18-hour days and living in -- doing everything from placing the Gideon Bibles in the rooms to taking the wraps off furniture for the hotel's three restaurants. "It's all difficult . . . . None of it is easy," said Richard C. Nelson, regional vice president of Hyatt Hotels and managing director of the Grand Hyatt Washington, of the marathon task of preparing to open a huge new hotel.

A calm but tired Nelson sat in the eye of the storm last week, greeting new employes in the 12-story atrium, talking with a sales representative about treating the marble floors so they would be less slippery and consulting with staff members about permits while dancers from a local production company rehearsed nearby for the opening ceremonies.

The hotel is opening in the midst of a glut of new and proposed hotel rooms in the Washington area, with many well-known hotels offering big discounts on their published room rates and still ending up with occupancy levels that are less than they need to break even.

Still, the Grand Hyatt has one distinct advantage: The $140 million hotel is directly across the street from the Washington Convention Center.

"There's no question that the convention center was the key motivating factor" for the hotel, said Robert Gladstone, president of Quadrangle Development Corp., the company that owns and developed the hotel. "We set about to be the headquarters for the convention center." Hyatt Hotels Corp. is the operating partner.

"The term 'glut' of hotel rooms is too general to me to be applicable to any state or city in the country," said Darryl Hartley-Leonard, president of Hyatt Hotels Corp. He said that because Washington is headquarters for so many national associations, "There really was a need for the most upscale {convention} hotel possible and that downtown is exactly the place to build it."

Metrorail was another major factor in the hotel's development, Gladstone said. Hyatt customers will have direct access to Metro through a connecting Quadrangle building that will include space for offices, retail stores and parking. That building is expected to be completed by mid-1989 at a cost of about $89 million.

Ironically, Quadrangle also is the managing partner of the J.W. Marriott Hotel at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, the hotel that the Grand Hyatt will be directly competing against for conventions and meetings.

For Gladstone, it makes absolute sense to own two competing hotels.

"We're very proud. We think we own the two best hotels in the world," he said, adding that he believes the Grand Hyatt will strengthen the area and bring new business to other center city hotels, like the Marriott.

In addition, two other major hotel projects -- a Ramada Renaissance Hotel at Techworld and a Holiday Inn-Crowne Plaza -- are scheduled to open within blocks of the convention center sometime next year.

"It enhances the saleability of the convention center," said Austin Kenny, executive vice president of the Washington Convention and Visitors Association. "The ideal has always been to have as many rooms within walking distance of the convention center as you can."

Still, convention properties go through cyclical ups and downs -- and the Washington Convention Center, after an initial surge of business between 1983 and 1987, is looking at soft bookings for the last half of 1987 and the first of 1988, though the end of 1988 and beginning of 1989 look "unbelievably strong," according to Kenny.

Neither Nelson nor many other Washington hoteliers are happy about summer business.

"Everyone says summer business in Washington is worse than terrible," said J.T. Kuhlman, general manager of the Willard Hotel, which will have its first summer of business after reopening last fall.

With businessmen on family vacations and Congress out of town, and thus no need for lobbyists, Nelson expects occupancy for July and August to be about 40 percent, but he is optimistic about the fall. He said that in October, a big month for convention and meetings business, the hotel could be 75 to 80 percent full.

Whether full or empty, the hotel first has to open. Early last week, the readiness of the Grand Hyatt looked doubtful. Those who've been through those final moments before, however, say it always looks that way to the untrained eye.

Opening a hotel is "like opening night of any theater production," said Paul Limbert, general manager of the Park Hyatt at 24th and M Streets NW, which opened last August.

"Even the dress rehearsal looks like you'll never make it . . . . But when the curtain goes up, the magic is there," he said.

This is how dress rehearsal looked behind the scenes at the Grand Hyatt:

On Tuesday, young bellmen lined up as if for a military inspection, shifting nervously each time Bob Robinson crisply called out "Front, please."

Each in turn took the bags of a fellow employe acting as the customer. "Good morning, Mr. Smith. Welcome to the Grand Hyatt Washington."

In the not-quite-ready-for-opening practice session, there were some cries of "Wait, wait, wait. What did you do wrong?" from Robinson, who is on loan from the Hyatt in Cherry Hill, N.J., to help train bellmen and doormen. (No women applied for the jobs, though Robinson said that at other properties women often get the biggest tips.)

The eager recruits concentrated on their lines in spite of the hubbub swirling around them. Construction workers, pool cleaners, more than 600 Grand Hyatt employes and about 100 experts on loan from the Chicago headquarters of Hyatt Hotels Corp. and six other Hyatt hotels in the Washington area made more noise than the cicadas.

In one corner of the 12-story atrium, the finishing touches of construction scattered a fine dust on the marble floors as the bellmen rehearsed. In another, the pounding of hammers rang out as the floors were installed in the two gift shops. The ringing of fire alarms being tested was nearly constant.

One level down, servers and bussers practiced in the Grand Cafe, one of three restaurants the hotel will have, while others carried trays high above their heads or folded napkins in a butterfly pattern.

On one of five levels below the main floor of the hotel, the eight seamstresses and managers in the uniform department sorted out more than 4,000 pieces of uniforms, marking each with an employe number. Meanwhile, on the banquet floor, more than 60 butchers, cooks, chefs and stewards prepared dishes for a trial banquet.

"If we're not ready yet, we never will be," said Joachim Buchner, executive sous-chef, as around him caviar was spooned onto toast points and main dishes were prepared and lined up next to color photographs of what they should look like.

Richard A. Masucci, the director of sales and marketing for the hotel, danced across the lobby floor. Masucci, who started selling group business for the hotel before it was even a hole in the ground two years ago, was undaunted by the unfinished look around him as he showed off the hotel's three presidential suites, complete with jacuzzis, saunas, wet bars and other amenities, for $900 a night.

Other rates at the hotel include 60 suites for between $250 and $900, single rooms for $150 to $170, doubles for $175 to $195 and rooms on the Regency Club floor -- with special perks for business travelers -- at $190 for singles and $215 for doubles.

On Wednesday, the work went on, but it was overshadowed by a problem that delayed the signing of the hotel's occupancy permit, forcing hotel managers to relocate a few meeting planners, scheduled to check in Thursday, to the Hyatt Regency on Capital Hill. "It's a big disappointment," said one hotel official.

By Thursday, the Grand Hyatt was beginning to look as if it might be ready to open on time.

Rugs were down in the lobby, furniture was unwrapped and in place in the public areas and flowers from the in-house florist were everywhere. The piano was perched on its island in the middle of the hotel's lagoon.

Tired employes smiled through their weariness. "We had a fire drill the other day," said Jill Parks, head concierge for the hotel. "It was the first time I'd been outdoors in three days."

On Friday, there was a pep rally to help get the troops through the final push. Things were looking almost ready, and some employes were actually going to take the weekend off to rest up for the opening.

Still, many of them knew it was something they'd never experience again. As Kuhlman remembered of the Willard's opening:

"The most fun was the day before we opened. We took all the employes out front and had our pictures taken. You can't ever do that again, because once the hotel is open, everyone's inside working."