16 Nov 2020


Lost Capitol Hill: The Carroll Arms Hotel

Dimitri Karaghiosov

I was asked about this hotel a few months ago, but then became sidetracked with other questions. I wanted to return to it, for reasons that I trust will be obvious over the next few weeks.

Operating a hotel near the Capitol has always been a no-brainer. The people coming to D.C. for the express purpose of visiting the Capitol or interacting with members of Congress have always been a steady clientele for such ventures. But it it were just these honest visitors, it would hardly make for any interesting stories.

The Carroll Arms Hotel was a Capitol Hill institution for over 40 years, located as it was at the corner of 1st and C Streets NE, right across the street from the Senate Office Building. Built in 1936 by Thomas Pickford, it was operated by Jefferson L. Ford, who leased the building for 10 years. The hotel opened on January 4, 1937. It was described as being “an apartment hotel,” with 100 rooms over five floors. It had “mostly one-room apartments with the new ‘pullman’ type kitchens.” It had a brick exterior whose ornamentation could be described as Colonial.

The new venture was a hit with one group right away: Members of Congress. Later in the year, four of these were listed as living there, including a first-term Senator from Missouri, Harry S. Truman. He had previously lived at a variety of apartment buildings on Connecticut Avenue, and, in fact, would move back to that part of town when he began his second term in 1941.

Detail of advertisement for the hotel that ran in the Washington Evening Star the day it opened (LOC)

During the Second World War, the hotel housed WAVES, the women’s auxiliary of the Navy. The hotel was used for more unsavory purposes, however. A pair of confidence men rented a room in the hotel, and used the lobby to transact business, inviting an Alexandria restaurant operator the opportunity to buy “a corner on the beer market.” After he paid them the requested sum, they invited him into the phone booth to talk about delivery with a friend of theirs. While the mark listened to the dial tone on the phone, the two others crooks made their escape.

In fact, from here on in, the hotel seems to have attracted just this sort of dealing. It began in 1948, when a Bulgarian diplomat named Dimitri Karaghiosov (or some variant thereof – no two sources agree on a transliteration of his name. That’s him at the top of the article) disappeared from his post as vice-consul in Turkey. A month later, he was found by enterprising reporters in the Carroll Arms Hotel, where he stated that he had done so to “escape death at the hands of Communist agents.” While he claimed that he had done all this on his own initiative, he was allowed to enter into the U.S. only under the supervision of Army intelligence officers.

Unfortunately, little information about Karaghiosov remains. He was known to have graduated from Robert College, an American school in Istanbul, but otherwise, his affinity to the United States was unknown. Maybe deep in the bowels of some intelligence agency there are remarkable revelations of cold war era skullduggery, but much more likely is that he was a relatively low-level apparatchik who did not know much, but enough to know that he did not want to return to Bulgaria, either. The army fielded several calls from news organizations about him, but they must not have revealed much, because Kraghiosov’s name disappears from the news pages within a few days.

The Carroll Arms survived, and I will look at its further life and scandals next week.

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