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A Hotel with a History in the Nation’s Capital: the Hamilton Crowne Plaza

Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer


It’s December 2013, a week before Christmas and a dark day in the national’s capital where sufficient (albeit intermittent) snow has fallen to result in all government offices, schools and the like to shut down. But for those having lunch at 14K, the Hamilton Crowne Plaza’s restaurant named for the hotel’s locale, all is cozy and warm. Our table sits against a wall of large picture windows that open to a wide dining terrace on the other side. For the moment, it is  empty and forlorn-looking. But in a few months, during Cherry Blossom time, the awnings will be lowered, purple and yellow pansies will be fighting for space in window boxes along the railings, and the 14th Street lobbyists will be back in force, fiercely practicing their arts of persuasion.  

For the moment, however, we are enjoying a splendid lunch in the comfortable interior dining room along with Chris Colvin, the dynamic area director of Sales and Marketing  for Interstate Hotels, a parent group of the Hamilton Crowne Plaza. Over horseradish-spiked Bloody Marys and delicate tuna tartars, she is describing her family’s weekend retreats to a farm in the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside that has been in her husband’s family for generations. It proves a welcome antidote to the pressures of city life, Chris tells us, although  her work at the Hamilton offers no small measure of satisfaction and challenges, particularly in the way the environment is so attuned to the needs of the contemporary woman.

 “Our general manager is a woman,” she says. “The hotel was the site of the LPGA Power Mixer last October, and we are the only hotel in Washington to have instituted a ‘Women’s Floor.’” On Sundays through Thursdays, Chris explains, the female business traveler can book one of the newly renovated guest rooms  on a floor reserved exclusively for women. Special bath salts, body, hair and skin products, magnifying mirrors, even a yoga mat await her, and in-room massages and personalized concierge services are there for the asking.

A recent innovation, the “Women’s Floor” is but one of the many elements that make the Hamilton so popular a DC destination. First-class fitness facilities that include an indoor pool, spa tub and sauna, a business center that is regularly available, spaces geared to events ranging from  meetings to conferences to weddings, elegantly-furnished accommodations -- each one a room with a view and equipped with state-of-the-art electronic features including  complimentary wireless, and the dining delights of 14K combine into a definitive 21st century luxury property. At the same time, it is grounded in a history that began with an 1877 opening and took off in a different direction 1922 in when  the original building was razed and replaced by an eleven-story, 400-room U-shaped building of Indiana limestone.

Chris Colvin, Sales & Marketing Director - click to enlarge
Chris Colvin, Sales & Marketing Director

That is the Hamilton Crowne Plaza of today, a boutique hotel of Beaux-Arts design standing on the corner of 14th and K Streets, immediately identified by the stunning arch that sits atop the glass-door entrance bearing a fan-like arrangement of stained-glass window panes. The arch continues into the hotel lobby, a soaring ceiling now lined with glittering gold medallions against a white background looking down on a stretch of gleaming marble. A vision of 1920’s glamour, it presents a first impression that somehow manages to linger  throughout one’s stay in what is otherwise a cool and contemporary setting.

The site of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inaugural ball and his War Room  during the Second World War,  the Hamilton, one of the “Historic Hotels of America,” has been named a historic landmark by the DC Historic Preservation Review Board. At the same time, it is very much a player in the contemporary Washington scene and a desirable destination for those in town on official business or simply to enjoy the many sights of the nation’s capital.

Often they are one and the same – like the group of men we met in 14K seated at a large table beside ours. They were from Montana, of largely Native Americans descent, in town to lobby for grants that will enable them to expand water-related projects in their state but also, while they were at it, to take in some of the DC attractions.

They represent but one aspect of the American ethos that is part of the Hamilton experience. So is the staff – from housekeepers to concierges, from bellmen to servers, to people behind the front desk and in front of the doors, many of them young people from all over the world aiming at being part of the larger American experience.

We had only a two-night stay at the Hamilton Crowne Plaza, and it was in the depths of December. Now, having moved on with a long-range journey southwards, we hope to return and partake of it is pleasures once more when we are on our way back home, maybe – if we are lucky enough -- to dine beneath the awnings on the terrace of K14 in Cherry Blossom time.    

Hamilton Crowne Plaza
1001 14th Street SW, Washington, DC 20005
Washington, D.C. 20005

Phone: 202-682-0111

Photographs by Harvey Frommer

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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