IN SPITE OF the light drizzle and dark clouds, this morning's visit to the District Zoning Office is rewarding. They have reviewed our architectural plans. There are no big surprises, and we are still on schedule.
When I return to the office I share with our partners, Fairmont Hotel Company, there is a message on my spindle. A minority investor is interested in our project. The issue of minority investment in this, as in other downtown developments, is the proverbial hot potato. Sometimes, I learn more about our prospective investors from the newspapers than from my own notes. Anxiously, I return the call. I record the conversation in my files and pass the information on to the developers.
I finish my calls, go home, make dinner and manage to drive through rush hour traffic to my evening class in mechanical and electrical systems for buildings. The session is informative, although now I can only remember that a raceway is not for horses but for electrical wires and that a one-tone air conditioner is a measure of how many BTUs it takes to melt one ton of ice. Tuesday
Our ground lease with the government is as decipherable as a Mayan calender. After countless months of negotiations, reams of drafts, this formidable document rests reverently on my desk. This morning is my second time through and I diligently make notes in the narrow margins.
The phone rings. Would we be interested in purchasing oil canvasses of 48 state seals that once adorned the Willard lobby? We are very interested, but we do not even own the building yet. I have had to spurn the old Willard sign, 1,000 autographed photographs, marble statues from the ballroom and an elevator key.
My father flies in from Florida for a meeting with prospective contractors.
We meet near the airport. The contractor's estimate for the project seems high. They qualify this by saying that the abandoned building is an unknown element and a greater contingency must be allowed. We agree that the detailed estimate must be scrutinized. Some budget cuts are permissible, but the luxury standards of the Fairmont Hotel and the "post-modern" scheme of our architects cannot be jeopardized.
I am lured home by the promise of a hot meal. I am greeted by the aroma of mushroom bisque and quiche. My brother is in town and I am treated to a superb meal according to his culinary gospel, "Moosewood Cookbook." Wednesday
We have been trying to close the alley on the site adjoining the Willard for over a year and I am hopeful that our neighbor, the Washington Hotel, the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation (PADC) and our team can reach an amicable compromise. Closing this particular alley which enters and exits off of Pennsylvania Avenue has not been easy. The Washington Hotel uses the alley as its only access for service trucks. Since we intend to build an addition on the adjacent site which includes the alley, we must provide a new service access and loading dock for the Washington Hotel on our site. Also, the PADC will not allow any access off Pennsylvania Avenue once the project is complete. We are therefore, confined to F Street.
As predicted, the meeting is as long as the subject matter is complicated. Pinning down an agreement is like nailing jello to the wall. At the end of the daylong session, it is clear that there are still many legal and financial matters to be resolved.
Frustrated and weary from the poor results of the day, I proceed to call our architects and advise them of minor changes to the plans that result from the meeting.
My evening chamber group (I play the flute) is a welcome transition from the afternoon. The turnout is small, but the essential viola and violin players have arrived and we settle down for an evening of Bartok and Mozart. Thursday
This morning's meeting is an excellent example of our geographic representation. The architects arrive from New York, the Fairmont president from San Francisco, the interior designers from Boston and my father from Florida. Since all the decision makers are present in one room, I expect some substantive and definitive advances in our design scheme.
After spending a year observing how painfully slow decisions are made vis a vis our ground lease and the alley closing agreement, it is terribly satisfying to witness some forward motion.
Everything begins to click. The layout for the duplex penthouse suites is now refined, and new themes for the function rooms are discussed and accepted. After an evening at F. Scott's in Georgetown the previous night, the president of the Fairmont wants to use an "art deco" motif in one of the public rooms. All agree, and we have something I have not felt before -- momentum.
When I return to my office, I have a message from a broker who has some Europeans interested in investing in the Willard, and enough funds to provide the permanent financing. Sounds curious. Moments later, another individual calls and claims he can put together a consortium of athletes who are looking for a tax shelter.
A public relations consultant suggests several ideas for our ground-breaking clebration. One is to stage a son et luminiere featuring presidential and other famous guests of the Willard over its 130-year history. One official suggested wrapping a ribbon around the building a la Cristo.
After paying bills and balancing the books, I return home. There I find an invitation to a "Strumpet and Strumpet Manager" party in Williamsburg for the next weekend. I accept the invitation, and settle down for a evening of flute practice and reading. Friday
I make it to the airport in seven minutes flat and then wait 30 minutes for my father, whose plane is late.
Today a vice president from Fairmont is flying in to have lunch with the newly appointed acting chairman of the PADC and staff. It is an important meeting: the latest extension of the ground lease will soon expire, the alley issue is still unresolved, inflation is hiking our costs another $500,000 per month and the prime interest rates is at 20 percent.
We meet the chairman and are escorted to a private dining quarter. After several hours, I leave to meet the surveyors at the Willard Hotel.
We ascend 12 flights of stairs, through trash paper, broken plaster pieces, pigeon droppings and mousetraps to the mechanical chamber. There is something about walking into a dark vestibule in the middle of a sunny day. If I did not know I was at the top of a Beaux Art hotel, I could imagine I was spelunking caves out West.
Later, I meet my father at Union Station, and we board Amtrak to Philadelphia. After a quick dinner and an exchange of notes, our conversation becomes familial. A complex family situation consisting of old stresses and new strains. What do I make of it all? I recognize my role is to act as a sounding board; I cannot provide any answers, but I think the dialogue is healthy.
Arriving at Philadelphia, we take a cab to the new Fairmont Hotel (the restored Bellevue Stratford) and settle in for tomoorrow's review with the architects. Saturday
The morning, while my father is pacing the length of his bedroom floor to see if it really is 450 square feet, I inspect the marble threshold, the bathroom telephone, crown moldings, huck towels and other luxury features itemized by our interior designers.
In the lobby, we are greeted by the hotel manager and the Fairmont vice president of development. Our three architects appear, each with a small son in tow, conjuring up an image from a certain movie. Within the next half hour, our contractors from Washington and the contractor for the Philadelphia Fairmont arrive.
The tour is fascinating. The light bulbs in the pre-assembly room were designed and installed by Thomnas Edison. In the kitchen, I salivate at the sight of a five-foot replica of the Liberty Bell made of chocolate. It was conceived by the dessert chef who was the captain of the United States Culinary Olympic team.
Thinking I am somewhat savvy by this time, I see no flaws in the restoration work, but the architects and contractors show me problem areas and explain the alternatives which could be applied to the Willard.
After a long but informative day, I take the train back to Washington. Sunday
Sunday means catching up on sleep, a slow leisurely breakfast, jogging and ample opportunity to read and practice flute. Since I also participate in a flute trio on Monday nights, I practice an extra half hour this afternoon. Thonight, my girlfriend and I are invited to dinner at my counsins' house in Alexandria. This is an informal affair. I enjoy the exchange of events since our last reunion.