Willard Hotel Marks 20 Years Since Reopening

This week, the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., begins a year-long celebration marking 20 years since the legendary hotel reopened. The hotel has housed generations of Washington politicians, including Abraham Lincoln. Liane Hansen speaks with Barbara Bahny, the hotel's public relations director.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This week, the Willard Hotel in Washington begins a yearlong celebration marking 20 years since the historic and legendary hotel reopened for business during a revitalization of the downtown area. The building had been vacant since riots in 1968 left much of downtown Washington an urban wasteland. The existing Willard Hotel opened in 1901 on the same site as its namesake. The hotel has housed generations of Washington politicians, including Abraham Lincoln, who stayed there in the days before his first inauguration in 1861. This weekend, we met Barbara Bahny, the hotel's public relations director, for a look around the lobby.

Unidentified Man: Good afternoon. Concierge. I'm with a guest. Can you hold on for a moment, please? Thank you.

HANSEN: We're sitting on comfy upholstered couches and chairs in the sumptuous chandeliered and marbled lobby. It's a pleasure to meet you, Barbara, and it's a pleasure to see this place.

Ms. BARBARA BAHNY (Willard Hotel): I'm glad you're here. Thank you and welcome.

HANSEN: Virtually every president since--What?--Franklin Pierce has been to this hotel.

Ms. BAHNY: Yes, except for the 18 years of closing. Our first owner, Henry Willard, set a precedent by inviting Franklin Pierce to the Willard Hotel, and he figured that if he invited President Pierce that then presidents to follow would come into the hotel, and so we have really a long legacy of just about every president since him except for the 18 years of closure.

HANSEN: In 1923, this was actually an official residence for the president?

Ms. BAHNY: The presidential standard flew outside of the Willard Hotel when Calvin Coolidge was president. He was waiting for the widow Harding to vacate the White House.

HANSEN: Tell us what President Grant said about this particular place where we are sitting and how it entered into the lexicon of American history.

Ms. BAHNY: Well, after a long day in the Oval Office, President Grant used to walk to the Willard Hotel and have a brandy and cigar and sit down. And then some of the petitioners of the day learned of Grant's fondness for the Willard lobby and came around him and he coined the term `lobbyists,' because they were finding President Grant in the lobby of the Willard Hotel.

HANSEN: Isn't it amazing how far that term has come.

Ms. BAHNY: It has come a long way.

HANSEN: Barbara Bahny, public relations director for the Willard Hotel, congratulations on the anniversary and good luck with all the celebrations.

Ms. BAHNY: Thank you.

HANSEN: It's 22 minutes before the hour.

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