30 Nov 2020

History:

Lost Capitol Hill: The Capitol Hill Hotel

Sen. John F. Kennedy

Over the last two weeks, we have looked at the Carroll Arms Hotel and its shadier side. Today, we’ll look at some of its brighter spots – as well as its eventual demise.

Probably the most famous person to get his start here was none other than Mark Russell, who got a gig there in 1958, and soon began “political comment and satire and began writing his songs,” according to a 1969 Washington Post article. In 1961 he moved across town to the Shoreham Hotel, where he would spend the next 20 years in residence.

Another person to get her start there was Ann Cooper, who came to D.C. in 1948, and opened a newsstand in the Carrol Arms Hotel a few months later. She would remain there until 1965, when the hotel was closed for renovations. She described one of her most famous clients (who can be seen above, at about the time she is talking about) in a 1981 Post article:

When I was at the Carroll Arms, Sen. John F. Kennedy used to eat in the dining room and he’d come down to read the magazines. He never bought them, just looked. He was shabbily dressed and always looked like he needed a haircut. You know, with his hair always hanging along the side of his face. He was very nice and friendly. Those were the good old days.

Cooper would relocate to a trailer next to the hotel during the renovation, a spot she held for many years – even after the hotel reopened as the Capitol Hill Hotel. Even when she later became desperately ill, her loyal supporters ensured that she kept her spot there. One Capitol Police officer even took a month’s leave while she was hospitalized to keep the newsstand running. When she later ran into financial difficulties, friends of hers from the Carroll Arms days, including Russell, organized a fundraiser to keep her going.

While the hotel’s name changed, its restaurant kept the name Carroll Arms alive for another decade. In that time, the Post restaurant critic Donald Dresden said that it was “quite satisfactory,” though he seemed more excited by the idea of seeing members of Congress than the food.

Detail of a postcard showing the Carroll Arms Hotel in better times (John De Ferrari/Lost Washington, D.C.)

The death knell of the hotel began ringing in 1971, when Congress eyed the land on which the hotel sat for a possible garage for those working in the Senate. As can be expected, this did not happen overnight, and so in June 1971, the guests of the hotel had to be evacuated when a trio of interns working for Senator Strom Thurmond set their room on fire. While the damage was contained to just their room, water damage did affect other areas on the sixth floor.

By 1975, the hotel was no more. While the building remained – and was used for office space – it clearly was not long for this world.

Nonetheless, it was still used for a number of years, it was used by various Senate committees including the Domestic Intelligence and Ethics for meetings, being listed as the “Carroll Arms Senate Annex.”

It was eventually torn down with a minimum of fuss, and today, the spot remains a parking lot. Two other buildings remain on the square that once housed the Carroll Arms Hotel – a former apartment house now being used by the Capitol Police and the Monocle Restaurant, which is probably as close to the ambiance of the old Carroll Arms Hotel as you’re likely to get.


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