By Katie Dishman, Host Committee Member
The Host Committee is pleased to welcome you to Washington, and as the corporate archivist for Marriott International, I’m glad that the host hotel has long been a part of my company’s portfolio.
The Wardman Park Hotel hosted SAA four years ago, but its history goes back 100 years. In fact, in 1917 construction on a new hotel began by local DC developer Harry Wardman. It was originally dubbed “Wardman’s Folly” because of its location on the outskirts of downtown Washington and its large size. The Wardman Park Inn originally was an eight-story, U-shaped, red brick structure modeled after The Homestead Resort in Virginia.
The hotel officially opened on November 23, 1918, shortly after the conclusion of World War I. It cost $5,000,000, a huge sum at the time. It was the largest in the city with 1200 rooms and 625 baths. Because of the housing shortage in Washington, D.C. due to the war, the hotel was occupied immediately. Approximately 1/6 of the hotel was for hotel guests and the remainder was for permanent apartment residents.
Original Wardman Park Hotel, ca. 1918
A decade later, the hotel expanded with a new eight-story, 350-room luxury apartment annex called the East Building. Built by Wardman and designed by architect Mihran Mesrobian, it had rental apartments that were converted to hotel rooms beginning in 1973. It is currently the only remaining portion of the original Wardman Park and has housed many famous residents, especially those involved with politics, government, and the military.
Unfortunately, in 1929, just a year after that initial expansion, financial difficulties forced Wardman to transfer management of the hotel and annex to United Realties, Inc. Of course, this was not unusual since the stock market crash in October 1929 caused many people and businesses financial hardship. The following year, Wardman had to sell his properties as the economy worsened. By 1931, the Wardman hotel was sold at auction to Washington Properties, Inc.
Wardman Park postcard, ca. 1930s
However, as the economy improved, particularly when the U.S. entered World War II at the end of 1941, the hotel did much better, especially with the influx of people to the nation’s capital for war work.
After the war, in 1947, a television broadcast studio, NBC-affiliated WNBW, and the transmitting tower were completed and broadcasts began from the hotel. The first episode of “Meet the Press” was aired from there the same year and was hosted by Tower resident Lawrence Spivak.
In 1953, the Sheraton Corporation bought the Wardman Park Hotel and renamed it the Sheraton-Park Hotel.
Magazine advertisement, 1954
A couple years later, a grand ballroom, Sheraton Hall, and an exhibit hall opened providing the area with its first major convention facility. And in 1956, the hotel began operating a miniature locomotive to give tours around the 16 acres.
With its success, a multi-million-dollar expansion began in 1963. In the 1970s, the property undertook various remodeling projects. By 1973, the East Building annex was officially renamed Wardman Tower when the apartments were converted into 311 hotel rooms.
Sheraton-Park Hotel postcard. ca. 1973
The more contemporary hotel started its ascent in 1977 when construction began on a new modern building on the adjacent property. This necessitated the NBC transmitting tower be removed; it was donated to the Metropolitan Police Department. In 1979, the original 1918 structure was razed since it was deemed outdated and unable to be modernized. The Sheraton-Park was renamed the Sheraton Washington Hotel and Convention Center, the “largest all-in-one convention hotel in the USA.”
In 1983 the property was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places and was added the following year. Among the numerous high-profile people that have stayed at the hotel through the decades include Vice President Lyndon Johnson, President Dwight Eisenhower, Senator Barry Goldwater, Actress Marlene Dietrich, and Chief Justice Earl Warren.
As is common in the lodging business property management has changed. In 1998, Marriott International took over running the renamed Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.
Although primarily a hotel, in 2015, the owners, JGB Cos., renovated floors 3-8 of the Wardman Tower as luxury condominiums, harking back to the earlier days when Wardman Park housed long-term residents.
The historic Marriott Wardman Park will be glad to have archivists staying once again this summer.