The Willard InterContinental Hotel
The Willard InterContinental is a historic hotel located one block away from the White House in Washington DC. It has a long and storied history of hosting presidents, celebrities, heads of state and more.
Copy of the Willard's 1861 menu
Sketch of newly elected US President, Franklin Pierce, leaving the Willard to his inauguration in March of 1853. Courtesy of the Library of COngress
The hotel in the 1930s. Flag seen at center denotes that the US president was on the premises
Libby during Christmas
Backstory and Context
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.