Hotel Harrington —“The last caravanserai”

A brown building with windows against a blue sky.

The Hotel Harrington. Photo by Frederic John.

A “caravanserai” is typically a pensione, or small hotel, where travelers (and merchant-peddlers) may lay their heads — for a modest sum — on a soft pillow and a firm, clean bed. Since 1913, the Harrington has stood proudly a block from 12th and Pennslyvania, looming over its quaint peaked-roof neighbors, even though the lordly Raleigh shadowed it for 65 years.

By the time the Raleigh was razed for the Presidential Building, a concrete ice cube put up in 1966, Hotel Harrington was the prime spot for budget tourists mobbing our capital city. Today, after enduring riots, political demonstrations, a deadly pandemic — and simply the buffeting of the winds of change that have swept away more than two-thirds of old established D.C. businesses — the Harrington is marching off into the dust.

Now the tan tapestried-brick hulk of the Harrington, delicately trimmed in terra-cotta floral trim delicious-looking enough to munch, may be chomped to death by a wrecking crane. But who can say?

A death knell or we’ll all be well

Many local passersby on E Street will continue to ponder the fate of the humble, yet storied Harrington. Who will make the highest bid in an upcoming house auction for the weathered “Employees Entrance” plate over the dungeon-like hatchway to the hotel’s tenebrious lower chambers?

This correspondent found himself in the glassed-in entry on Eleventh Street. The door was already locked — it was only Dec. 11. The official closing date was 36 hours away. The operations manager Miss Terry gave me scant information in her terse recorded message. A stooped, shiny-pated man in a bright crimson sports jacket and wrinkled khakis exited past from the deserted lobby.

“How does it feel to be here at the close of the Harrington?”

“No comment,” was his terse reply, and he rushed off.

Next door, at the homey dairy, Harriet’s, a stocky but smiling member of the operating staff named Rob hailed the writer. “Hey, this place had a long run, longer than a Broadway show!” he laughed. “But, it’s a designated national historic landmark, maybe we’ll have the walls at least to look at.”

The mirrored dining room of Harriet’s reflected the ghosts of clattering china, clinking flatware and the savory aroma of heaps of hot grub, bangers and mash, being gobbled down by Boy Scouts, attorneys, hustlers, gamblers and numerous wayfarers trailing all the way back to the days of Woodrow Wilson.

The fabled “kitchiteria,” and even the studios of legendary WGMS radio classical movie station right upstairs in a rooftop studio of the glorious Hotel Harrington, all gone.

And now — the curtain falls.

Issues |Community

Region |Downtown

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