The Georgetown Hotel had a white elephant of a different color: two seven-foot-tall, gold-leafed, spread-winged, copper American Eagles that it no longer needed, to be specific.
But managers at the P Street NW hotel, deciding to give at least one of the pair away, turned them into highly sought-after items with a bright idea on just who might want them most: cities, towns and hamlets across America that have "Eagle" in their names.
Finding 53 such communities across the country, hotel general manager Richard J. Cotter wrote the mayors of each in November, offering one of the antique birds to whichever town came up with the best plan for its use.
Among the 15 that responded, the hands-down winner proved to be Eagle, Wisc., a town of 1,854 that plans to put the bird inside its new elementary school.
To win the 85-pound eagle, which had perched atop the hotel for 25 years, the town sent letters and cards to Cotter from 216 children in all grades of the school.
The missives ranged from names of first-grade pupils on a cutout paper eagle to letters from sixth graders making promises such as that the eagle "would be distinguished above all things in this kind, little village."
Second graders mainly were intent on promising that nobody would write on the bird, but by the fifth grade they were assuring Cotter it would not be stolen.
"I will take care of it for the rest of my life," said fourth-grade pupil Jace Schubert.
"If you were us, I would give you one," said classmate Jason Kruswicki. "If it doesn't fit , we will just put a hole in the roof and fix it."
Others portrayed their community as in dire need of a little excitement.
"Nothing ever happens in our little community," said Kim Janecek. "If we got an eagle, our little town would become famous."
Proposals came from as far north as Eagle, Alaska, and as far south as Eagle Lake, Fla.
The Alaskan hamlet of 164 people near the Canadian border offered to provide "a new home in the Alaska bush for a proud bird that was never meant to live in the city."
In the application, city clerk Jean Boone described the small city's principal industry as "self-employment (or lack of it)."
Eagle Rock, Mo., with a population of 1,380, was the runner-up in the contest, according to Cotter.
The Missouri town planned to put the eagle in front of its community building and had quickly established an "eagle fund" to pay for a new foundation, lighting and upkeep for the bird.
Roy A. Smith, the community association president, told Cotter that accounts of the eagle possibly coming to Eagle Rock, overheard in a local beauty parlor, had resulted in press inquiries from the county seat 17 miles away.
The Georgetown Hotel was acquired this year by the Omni International hotel chain and is undergoing a $7 million renovation, Cotter said yesterday.
The group plans to close down Herb's restaurant next door at the end of this month and open a new restaurant in April that will be called Cafe Beaux Art, he said.
The renovation plan calls for a different entranceway that will not use the eagles, which Cotter said are valued at $6,000 each and now rest in the hotel's pool area.
The hotel is not sure just what it will do with the second eagle, Cotter said.
He said the hotel may award the statue to one of the towns that submitted an application or give it to American University and establish a scholarship fund around it, Cotter said.