L'Enfant Plaza Hotel

The L'Enfant Plaza Hotel is a hotel located in downtown Washington, D.C., in the United States. It was designed by architect Vlastimil Koubek, and named after Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the first surveyor and designer of the street layout of Washington, D.C.

The hotel is located at L'Enfant Plaza just south of the National Mall and is 2 miles (3.2 km) from Washington Reagan National Airport, 27 miles (43 km) from Washington Dulles International Airport, and 33 miles (53 km) from Baltimore Washington International Airport. The hotel features 372 guest rooms, 36 larger "Executive Rooms", and several suites on the top four floors of a 12-story mixed-use building. The ground floor is occupied by the hotel's lobby, with separate elevators for hotel guests and office tenants. The hotel has two restaurants: The American Grill, and the Foggy Brew Pub. The facility has 21,000 square feet (2,000 m2) of meeting room space, which includes a main ballroom which seats 700.

Construction
Building L'Enfant Plaza

In 1946, the United States Congress passed the District of Columbia Redevelopment Act, which established the District of Columbia Redevelopment Land Agency and provided for clearance of land and redevelopment funds in the capital. After a decade of discussion, public comment, legal battles, and negotiations with landowners and developers, the Southwest Urban Renewal Plan was approved in November 1956. New York City developer William Zeckendorf proposed a grand mall along 10th Street SW, extending from Independence Avenue SW to end at a traffic circle at G Street SW. This mall Zeckendorf named L'Enfant Plaza, and it was approved for construction in April 1955. In December 1959, Zeckendorf won approval to build a 1,000-room hotel and five privately owned office buildings on L'Enfant Plaza. The Redevelopment Land Agency also approved the condemnation and razing of 14 city blocks for construction of the plaza, hotel, and office buildings. Construction was to have begun on January 1, 1961, but was delayed due to unresolved design issues with L'Enfant Promenade, the short time-frame to prepare detailed construction plans, and because Congress had not granted air rights above 9th Street SW to the developers.

Construction of L'Enfant Plaza and the hotel were then delayed another decade. Zeckendorf agreed to build the promenade, plaza, and all surrounding buildings as a single project in April 1961 and to pay $20 per 1 square foot (0.093 m2). These pledges led the Redevelopment Land Agency to award the 14-block area to Zeckendorf in October 1961 for $7 million. By this time, although the hotel had retained its size, the number of office buildings had shrunk from eight to three. Zeckendorf added an underground shopping mall of shops and restaurants to the project in November 1962, and construction on the promenade and plaza was to have begun in April 1963. But Zeckendorf's vast real estate empire began to suffer severe financial difficulties in 1964. (The company went bankrupt in 1965.) With Zeckendorf unable to make good on his construction pledges, the Redevelopment Land Agency forced him to withdraw and sell his interest in L'Enfant Plaza in November 1964.

The buyer of Zeckendorf's property and leases was the L'Enfant Plaza Corp. (also known as L'Enfant Properties). L'Enfant Plaza Corp. was a syndicate led by former United States Air Force Lieutenant General Elwood R. Quesada, and included Chase Manhattan Bank president David Rockefeller, D.C. businessman David A. Garrett, investment banker André Meyer, and the real estate investment firm Gerry Brothers & Co. Quesada said that if the Redevelopment Land Agency approved the sale, it would begin immediate construction of the promenade, the 1,400-car parking garage beneath it, and the plaza. The agency gave its approval on January 21, 1965. The sale was final on August 30.

Site preparation for L'Enfant promenade and plaza began in November 1965. Air rights over 9th Street SW were granted for a rent of $500 per year for 99 years on November 23, 1965. The actual groundbreaking for L'Enfant Plaza occurred on December 9, but the project was still hindered by delays. The federal government was building the James V. Forrestal Building at the northern end of L'Enfant promenade, and the whole northern end of the promenade and the associated roadway was a year behind its construction schedule by June 1967. Meanwhile, over-optimistic construction schedules and labor shortages meant L'Enfant Plaza Corp's building of the North and South buildings were six months behind projected schedules. The $23 million complex neared completion in January 1968, and the office buildings, plaza, and promenade opened to the public and businesses in June 1968. The plaza was formally dedicated on Saturday, November 16, 1968.

The west office building and the hotel remained to be built, at a cost of $40 million. Construction on the 640,000 square feet (59,000 m2) West Building and 730-car parking garage (designed by D.C. architect Vlastimil Koubek) began on February 18, 1969.

Building the hotel

Construction on the hotel was to have started in the spring of 1970. However, construction on the 1,000,000 square feet (93,000 m2), $23 million hotel and office building did not begin until June 1971. The Loews Hotels chain agreed to co-finance construction of the property with L'Enfant Plaza Corp., although details of the agreement were not provided. The hotel would occupy the top four floors and lobby of the 12-story building, with separate elevators for office tenants and hotel guests. The 378-room hotel, designed by Koubek, had a rooftop swimming pool, two restaurants, a cocktail lounge, and meeting rooms. The general contractor for the building was George Hyman Construction Co. (now Clark Construction Group).

A major problem emerged during the hotel's construction. The Robert C. Weaver Federal Building, headquarters of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), had been constructed on a Redevelopment Land Agency site in November 1965.John McShain, Inc., one of the largest federal building contractors in the Washington metro area, was the lead construction contractor. During the HUD building's construction, the footings for the western portion of the building were accidentally built 1.5 to 3.5 feet (0.46 to 1.1 m) over the property line. The 3 feet (0.91 m)-thick footings for the HUD building were 23 feet (7.0 m) underground. L'Enfant Plaza Corp. sued John McShain, Inc. and the Redevelopment Land Agency for removal of the footings, stabilization of the HUD structure, and associated costs. The action spawned several lengthy court battles which lasted through the 1970s.

The L'Enfant Plaza Hotel opened with a three-day gala ending with its dedication on May 31, 1973. The festivities began on May 29 with a birthday party for author Anita Loos attended by 260 Loews' executives, celebrities, and press—including actress Carol Channing singing "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" while seated on top of a 5 feet (1.5 m) tall cake. More than 1,500 people including Senator J. William Fulbright, Senator Jacob Javits, former Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford, and numerous business people, bankers, merchants, and construction company executives attended a reception at the hotel on May 30, and were permitted to roam freely throughout the facility throughout the evening. On May 31, Mayor of the District of Columbia Walter Washington, flanked by the Thomas Jefferson High School marching band and 40 high-kicking high school majorettes, cut the ribbon formally opening the hotel. The finished hotel had 372 rooms and occupied the bottom two "lobby floors" and the top four floors of the building. The building's final cost was $30 million.

Operation

Quesada and the Rockefeller family each owned about 39 percent of L'Enfant Plaza Corp. Major Rockefeller investors included David Rockefeller, David Rockefeller, Jr., and Abby Rockefeller Mauzé.

The hotel suffered a serious fire in 1975. On February 10, a fire broke out in a 12th floor storeroom which killed a hotel maid and injured three others. A hotel waiter died the following day.

From its opening until May 2005, the hotel was managed by Loews Hotels. For the next five years, it was managed by Crestline Hotels & Resorts, but the Davidson Hotel Company assumed control of its operations in July 2010.

In November 2003, the JBG Companies purchased L'Enfant Plaza, the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel, and the North and South office buildings from the L'Enfant Plaza Corp. for $200 million. The following year, the JBG Companies upgraded the hotel's physical plant, and added a Louvre Pyramid-like structure to the plaza in front of the hotel.

Footnotes
Bibliography
  • Committee on the District of Columbia. Subcommittee on Fiscal and Government Affairs. Amend Redevelopment Act of 1945 and Transfer U.S. Real Property to RLA: Hearings and Markups Before the Subcommittee on Fiscal and Government Affairs and the Committee on the District of Columbia. U.S. House of Representatives. 95th Congress, Second Session. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1978.
  • Gutheim, Frederick Albert and Lee, Antoinette Josephine. Worthy of the Nation: Washington, D.C., From L'Enfant to the National Capital Planning Commission. 2d ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.
  • Hodges, Allan A. and Hodges, Carol A. Washington on Foot: 23 Walking Tours of Washington, D.C., Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, and Historic Annapolis, Maryland. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1980.
  • Kousoulas, Claudia D. and Kousoulas, George W. Contemporary Architecture in Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C.: Preservation Press, 1995.
  • Moeller, Gerard M. and Weeks, Christopher. AIA Guide to the Architecture of Washington, D.C. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.
  • Reich, Cary. Financier: The Biography of André Meyer: A Story of Money, Power, and the Reshaping of American Business. New York: Wiley, 1997.
  • Scott, Pamela and Lee, Antoinette Josephine. Buildings of the District of Columbia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
  • Williams, Paul Kelsey. Southwest Washington, D.C. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia, 2005.

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