The historic Willard InterContinental Hotel is located on Pennsylvania Avenue one block away from The White House. One of the city’s landmark hotels, it has hosted dinners, meetings and major social events for more than 150 years. The famous hotel has hosted nearly every U.S. president since Franklin Pierce in 1853. Notable guests have included Charles Dickens, Buffalo Bill, David Lloyd George, P.T. Barnum, heads of states, world business leaders and many more. Martin Luther King famously finished his “I Have A Dream” speech while staying at the hotel. Mark Twain wrote a pair of books while staying at the Willard and Walt Whitman specifically mentioned it in his works. The Hollywood movie “Minority Report” starring Tom Cruise was partially filmed here.
The Willard has been known as the “Residence of the
Presidents” since Franklin Pierce lived there prior to his inauguration. President
Abraham Lincoln returned to the hotel to watch the parade following his first
inauguration. President Calvin Coolidge lived there for nearly a month.
Julia Ward Howe wrote the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” at
the Willard. President Ulysses S. Grant grumbled about and made the term lobbyist
popular. In 1998, U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright and Israeli Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met to discuss peace negotiations. In 2014, the
first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit took place here.
The Willard was originally built as row houses. It was first
used as a hotel in the early 1800s. It had names such as The American House and
City Hotel before Henry Willard arrived on the scene in 1847. With the help of
his brother Edwin, the brothers continued to improve and remodel the hotel. They
bought it in 1864 and renamed it the Willard City Hotel. The old hotel was demolished
in 1900 and a new, bigger building was built in its place. It was considered
one of the first skyscrapers in the city. In 1946, the Willard family sold their shares of the hotel due to mismanagement and financial decline in the area. The hotel closed in 1968, with plans for a number of years to demolish it before it was sold to the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation. In the early 1980s more changes came
when the InterContinental Hotel Corporation became the new management. The building
was restored and renamed the Willard InterContinental in 1986. A multi-million dollar renovation was
completed in 2000.
The hotel was subject to a court battle that reached the Supreme Court. An equity suit, that is a case where the argument centers on both purchasing price and method of payment (paper currency or gold coin), this case took place during the Civil War in 1864. The judges split during this case, Willard v. Tayloe. In the end, Willard who has purchased the hotel from Benjamin Tayloe was able to maintain his purchase, however, Willard was to pay in gold coin rather than paper, when he had tried with paper currency at a depreciated price.