Downtown Washington, DC bustled in 1914. Elegant new office buildings rose amidst the 19th century theaters, shops, saloons, and newspaper offices. Nine department stores drew crowds of shoppers. A few blocks away, Washingtonians and increasing legions of tourists marveled at the wonders displayed in the Smithsonian’s recently opened Natural History Museum.
Harrington Mills, a hotelier, spotted an opportunity. He and business partner Charles W. McCutchen built a hotel that met “popular one-room-and-bath-demand,” an unusual concept at the time, as described by the Washington Post. They set aside special “sample rooms” for traveling salesmen to show their wares to buyers from nearby stores.
Mills and McCutchen officially opened their Hotel Harrington, at 11th and E Streets, NW, on March 1, 1914.
Designed by the architectural firm Rich & FitzSimons, the six-story hotel boasted a dining room and two-story lobby with a mezzanine, all finished in marble. Upstairs, mahogany-trimmed hallways led to 80 rooms, all with running water and most with private baths.
The hotel proved so successful that in 1918 Mills and McCutchen doubled the size of the lobby and built a 12-story annex along E Street, containing a two-story ballroom and 100 additional rooms. The Harrington now ranked among the city’s largest hotels. A final expansion in 1925, a 12-story wing with another 125 rooms, filled in the rest of the E Street block to 12th Street.
In 1932 the hotel installed Art Deco embellishments, including the stainless steel canopy, with back-lit letters, over the front entrance. Always innovative, the Harrington in 1938 became DC’s first air-conditioned hotel. Late 1940s modernization resulted in reduced ceiling heights in the ballroom and lobby, and modern finishes and furnishings throughout the building.
The hotel has provided a comfortable home-away-from-home for its guests—more than 10 million of them over the years—as well as for its employees. Tenures spanning several decades are not uncommon, and many staff members have spent most of their careers with the Harrington.