AFTER MONTHS of deliberation, the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation has selected developer Stuart S. Golding to restore the Willard Hotel. The choice is a fine one. Mr. Golding, a Florida businessman, will team up with the San Francisco-based Fairmont Hotel Company to bring back much of the Willard's fabled elegance. The new group intends to clean up the facade, redo two dining rooms and "Peacock Alley," the first-floor promenade, and rebuild 550 guest rooms and a ballroom by 1982.
Ten years ago, there was every indication that the Willard would be demolished. Poor business, management problems and much needed renovation, along with a federal recommendation that the Willard be replaced by a "National Square," resulted in its closing. But thanks to citizen groups with a feeling for the hotel's history and tradition, the "Hotel of the Presidents" still stands at 14th Street and Pennysylvania Avenue NW. The building, erected in 1901, is a classic example of Beaux-arts style architecture; its mansard roof, carved ceilings and highly polished floors were internationally acclaimed. But much of the Willard's grandeur is gone; all movable objects (and some that were chiseled off the walls) were sold in 1969.
The Golding-Fairmont team intends to bring back the old elegance in decor while adding modern touches, including a supper club and 24-hour coffee shop. Next door the team will building a small hotel with some 60 shops, a swimming pool, an interior garden and a terraced lobby opening onto F Street. This new hotel will be built in the same Beaux-Arts style of the Willard-marking the first time in recent memory that a developer has decided to duplicate an older, less "function" design in new construction.
With selection of the Golding-Fairmont team, the PADC has completed the first phase of its work. But it has, in the past few years, done much more than merely select developers for various parcels. It has set an exciting tone for the Avenue, encouraging a mixture of hotels, office space, stores, restaurants and cultural activities that are intended to bring life back to downtown. The Willard Hotel will be a cornerstone in that enterprise.