The National Park Service and the US Department of the Interior describe the history of the Willard Hotel as follows:
American author Nathaniel Hawthorne observed in the 1860s that “the Willard Hotel more justly could be called the center of Washington than either the Capitol or the White House or the State Department.” From 1847 when the enterprising Willard brothers, Henry and Edwin, first set up as innkeepers on the corner of 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, the Willard has occupied a unique niche in the history of Washington and the nation. In 1847, Benjamin Ogle Tayloe leased the establishment to Henry A. Willard and his brother, Edwin. In 1858, the Willards expanded again, purchasing the property of Col. James Kearney and built a six-story addition to the hotel…
At the beginning of the twentieth century, a new Willard Hotel was built by the George A. Fuller Company to the designs of the famous architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh. In 1922, a major fire caused the evacuation by Vice President Calvin Coolidge, several US Senators, composer John Philip Sousa, movie producer Adolph Zukor and other attendees at the annual Gridiron Dinner.
Situated just two blocks from the White House, the hotel is replete with the ghosts of the famous and powerful. Over the years it has been the gathering place for presidents, politicians, governors, literary and cultural figures. It was at the Willard that Julia Ward Howe composed “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Gen. Ulysses S. Grant held court in the lobby and Abraham Lincoln borrowed house slippers from its proprietor. Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Jenny Lind were all part of the parade of celebrated Willard guests.
Even the uniquely political term “lobbyist” is said to have been coined at the Willard to describe those 19thcentury special-interest promoters who cornered politicians in the opulent Willard lobby.
The Willard sat vacant and in danger of demolition from 1968 until 1986 when it was restored to its former glory. A $73 million restoration project was carefully planned by the National Park Service to recreate the hotel as historically accurate as possible. Sixteen layers of paint were scraped from the woodwork to ascertain the hotel’s original 1901 colors.