In his 1952 biography of hotelier Ellsworth M. Statler, author Rufus Jarman described the Statler Hotel in Washington at its opening in 1943:
"In fact, the Washington Statler is not a luxurious hotel. It is a good, comfortable commercial hotel that has become the most glamorous thing in Washington principally because it has departed from the old hotel-building tradition, established before the First World War . . . with glass walls, efficient arrangements and absence of adornment . . . ."
Since then, the Statler, at 16th and K streets NW, has gone through several metamorphoses.
It became, through corporate merger, the Statler-Hilton and ultimately the Capital Hilton.
And now it has become what it wasn't at its opening during World War II: luxurious.
The Cap Hilton's general manager, Kevin Deverich, escorted reporters on a tour yesterday to see the not-quite-completed results of the hotel's $44 million renovation.
First, we digress. While it is fascinating to see the spurt of new hotel construction in town, it is heartening to see the lovingly done renovations of some of our older hostelries: The Mayflower and the Shoreham come first to mind, along with earlier work on the Sheraton Carlton and the Hay-Adams. Even the Convention Center Inn at 12th and K streets NW sports an attractive trompe l'oeil paint job that gives visual depth and texture to its facades.
The Statler, when conceived before Pearl Harbor, was designed with tiny rooms, reflecting post-Depression-era requirements when rates ran in the range of $5 a day. In fact, Statler biographer Jarman told reporters yesterday, it was the first major hotel built in the United States since New York's Waldorf-Astoria (now also a Hilton property) was opened in 1931.
It became the capital's swank social center during World War II.
The current reconstruction of the Cap Hilton has downsized the hotel from 850 rooms to 533 larger units, with a top price of $950 a night for the State Suite, where Harry Truman hosted poker games and which contains a piano he often played.
The piano, still in perfect tune, is marked with a plaque saying Truman was "a frequent guest of the Capital Hilton." In truth, he wouldn't recognize that name; he'd walk up from the White House to the Statler.
Other rooms and suites are competitive in the $100-plus range, and with it guests get such amenities as bathroom television to catch the morning news while showering and shaving, and fully equipped fitness rooms.
As part of the reconstruction, the hotel's main desk -- which now faces eastward toward a since-closed taxicab ramp and is a puzzle to find for guests arriving from the west through the 16th Street front door -- will be turned 90 degrees to face northward toward L Street, readily visible to those arriving.