Old and Older: The Ebbitt House and New Ebbitt Hotel

William E. Ebbitt established his boardinghouse in 1856 on the southeast corner of 14th and F Streets NW, in a neighborhood of many old residences that had become boardinghouses. Like many hotels from the early part of the 19th century—including the National and Brown’s—Ebbitt House was created by combining several existing Federal-style townhouses. Ebbitt ran it for only eight years, selling it to Caleb C. Willard in 1864. Willard was one of four brothers who operated the Willard Hotel, located only a block south of the Ebbitt.

The Ebbitt House in 1865 (Source: Washington Old And New, 1914).


This view of the original Ebbitt House is from the cover of a menu, dated March 3, 1866, in the Library of Congress. The dinner menu on that day included such delicacies as Leg of Mutton with Caper Sauce; Boiled Capons with Pork Sauce; and Wild Red Head Duck Broiled, with Currant Jelly Sauce.

In 1872, Willard incorporated the old structure's several parts into a much larger “New” Ebbitt, a distinguished, stylish, Second-Empire building six stories tall. As noted by James Goode in Capital Losses, the hotel "was originally designed with a restrained mansard roof skillfully designed in scale with the body of the building."

The Ebbitt House, circa 1872 (author's collection).

The Ebbitt House in 1876, after its first mansard roof had been slightly modified and the building expanded on the south.
Then, in about 1895, the building was enlarged and an "overpowering" new roof was installed, as seen in the postcard view below. The top attic level with all the circular windows provided quarters for servants. The lobby featured massive chandeliers, a marble floor, marble-topped walnut reception desk, and a 25-foot coved ceiling, supported by four Corinthian columns. Thus the Ebbitt achieved a pinnacle of sorts, in Victorian excess, but it was spacious, up-to-date, and a very popular hotel.


The Ebbitt was especially popular with military officials. At one point (possibly in the 1870s), Congress adjourned for its summer recess without providing any pay for military officers. The officers had to manage on their own through the summer until Congress re-convened and passed a pay bill. Caleb Willard recognized an opportunity here and offered to put up Army or Navy officers at his hotel, with the proviso that their bills be settled at whatever time they eventually received their pay. As a result, the hotel became known as the "Army and Navy Headquarters," as noted on the postcard. Prominent guests included General William T. Sherman, Admiral David G. Farragut, Admiral David Dixon Porter, and General Winfield Scott Hancock. William McKinley also stayed at the Ebbitt throughout his congressional career and left from it for his presidential inauguration.


The New Ebbitt Cafe opened in November 1910.
Here's a view of the Ebbitt (on the right) during the great "Knickerbocker" snowstorm of January 1922, courtesy of the NOAA Library:



The hotel business was highly competitive in Washington, and new hotels were continually leapfrogging older buildings by offering more fashionable, more up-to-date, and/or more prominent quarters. In the first decades of the twentieth century, the Ebbitt struggled to compete against the Raleigh and the Willard on Pennsylvania Avenue. In 1925, the year the new Mayflower Hotel opened on Connecticut Avenue, the owners finally closed and its many opulent but old-fashioned furnishings were sold at auction for fire-sale prices. The hotel was torn down and replaced by the National Press Building. The elaborately paneled bar from the Ebbitt was saved and installed in a small Victorian storefront a block to the west, which became the Old Ebbitt Grill.


The Ebbitt's management had not given up on the hotel business, however. In fact a new "New Ebbitt" was already under construction in 1925 at 10th and H Streets, NW, even before the old hotel had been sold. The new ten-story building, designed by Stern & Tomlinson, had 150 rooms and was reported at the time to cost $600,000 to construct. It included such modern amenities as a garage and for each room an electric fan, "running ice water," and a private bath.


The new hotel never had the same success as the old one. It changed ownership many times, beginning the year after it was constructed. In 1933, in the midst of the Depression, it was sold at auction for $120,000. The location was probably not the best, being several blocks afield of the main tourist thoroughfares. After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, George C. Clarke, owner of the New Ebbitt at that time as well as the Grafton on Connecticut Avenue, continued to operate the hotel as a "dry" hotel, with no bar on site (an ironic legacy for the Ebbitt, which had been famous for its bar in the old days). A brief article in the Washington Post in 1959 noted plans to renovate the hotel "which has catered chiefly to visiting school groups in recent years, [and] will concentrate hereafter on the needs of businessmen." That effort undoubtedly produced mixed results, as the neighborhood continued to decline in the 1960s. In a Washington Post piece reminiscing about the day in 1963 when President Kennedy was shot, Haynes Johnson recalled in 1983 that "the CIA used to put up people there [at the Ebbitt], and for good reason. While centrally located, it was removed from the official world of Washington, it was cheap, and no one who was anyone had ever heard of it." Ouch! Another brief article in March 1969 noted that the hotel's night manager had been shot and seriously wounded in an attempted burglary.

In the 1980s, things began to turn around for Downtown in general and this area in particular. A new convention center was built across the street in 1980. In 1986, the now-antiquated New Ebbitt was finally torn down and replaced by the much larger, 907-room Grand Hyatt Hotel, designed by RTKL Associates, which remains there today.

Comments

  1. Would you have any information about a barber shop that was located in the Ebbitt House in 1913; and was still there in 1923, called Rogers Kingston G. Location was 1338 F. nw - south east corner.???

    Thanks Annie -- endofcstreet@msn.com

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  2. An announcement in The Washington Post on January 13, 1895, states that "Robert Wilson, proprietor of the Ebbitt House barber shop, has conveyed to Kingston Goddard Rogers, by deed of sale, dated November 23, 1894, recorded yesterday, all the goods, chattels, and interest of the business, for $3,000."

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  3. I have a cream pitcher could it be worth something? it has a hairline crack jtabc123@yahoo.com

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    Replies
    1. I work at Old Ebbitt and would love to see and or make a purchase.
      Thank you

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  4. The FBI in the late 70's used to put up their newly arriving clerks (GS-2's) at the old ebbitt hotel there for 3 days. After that they were on their own to find housing.

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    Replies
    1. You are absolutely correct as I stayed there myself as a new EOD (employee) from May 31 to June 3, 1976.

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    2. I also stayed there when I went to Wash. DC to work for the FBI...1978....I look back now and I was only 18 yrs. old and from a small town in Iowa...as I recall...the neighborhood (and hotel) were pretty scary back then. I remember the desk clerk was behind bullet proof glass and bars. Really strange (and unsafe) if I think about it now...we were so young!! Please email me if you remember this or anything else about the Ebbitt and FBI....would be curious. email - kellykaty50@yahoo.com

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    3. Scary, indeed. My high school class from the Finger Lakes area of NYS stayed at the Ebbitt on our senior class trip in 1967. We were warned--to no avail, of course--about the neighborhood, and--voila--a guy was knifed one night in the alley outside the hotel.

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  5. I found an old business card for "Don Pedro's Mexican Cantina, In The Ebbitt Hotel," 10th & H Streets N.W., Washington, D.C. Telephone 737-2848, and proprietor or manager "Clark E. Finks." Think my sister and I must have eaten there while on vacation in 1970 or 1971. Anyone know what happened to it?

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    1. When I was a child Clark Finks was a friend of my father. He was something of an Uncle figure to me. As of this date 03/17/13 I decided to do an internet search for Mr. Clark as I had lost touch with him over 43 years ago. Turns out he died at 75 years old and is buried in Texas.

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  6. Mark Twain mentions the Ebbitt House in an 1867 letter home, when he was living in Washington and working as a correspondent. He wasn't staying there; he was lodged at a nearby boarding house, one located across from (as he put it) "Ebbitt's Boarding House."

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  7. In 1952 my husband were stationed in the army in Blackstone, VA. Every weekend he could get off base we would fill our car with service men and head to The Ebbitt Hotel. going through some papers and old pictures I found a paper showing we paid $7,50 per night. It was located at Tenth and H Streets, N.W. Washington 1,
    D.C. It was 150 rooms - 150 baths.

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  8. I found a key from the hotel. Apparently my mother must of stayed there in her younger years.Rm 714

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  9. My husband found a skeleton key from the hotel, Ebbitt House 330, Washington DC on one side and 225 stamped on the other side. Also, postage to return the key by mail was 2 cents.

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  10. I have an enlarged original photo of the original Ebbitt Boarding house from my brother's estate. The same photo as mentioned in the Library of Congress 1860. It is now, sadly, stored in my garage as I have no place to hang the large frame. Are there any other history buffs that could benefit or be interested in displaying? If so please feel free to contact me at eaa1812 gmail.

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  11. Joe maruca, San DiegoOctober 18, 2017 at 3:25 PM

    I stayed for 3 days with school crossing guards from uniontown penna in 1947. I was in 6th grade.

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  12. Enjoyed the article, I just bought an old serving platter from the New Ebbitt Hotel, the piece is punctuated with an ornate eagle/flag motif. This article was the beginning of researching the plate.

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  13. Where did you get this platter ?
    I am looking for Old Ebbitt items. Thank you for your time.

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  14. I just purchased an old trunk that has a red, white and blue sticker "Ebbitt House, Army and Navy, Washington, City. U.S.A." Any idea how old the sticker might be? Thank you for your assistance.

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