By Karen Rubin
A wonderful way to enhance the experience of being immersed in history in the nation’s capital is to stay in a historic property of incomparable charm.
The Morrison-Clark Inn is very different from Washington D.C.’s many hotels, even those with historic roots. In the first place, the inn, a member of Historic Hotels of America, is more like staying in an elegant Victorian mansion home, than a hotel.
It is warm and welcoming (especially during the holidays), after dashing about the city and visiting such majestic buildings and heralded halls of power and heritage. For families introducing their children to such imposing and important places, the inn offers an opportunity to return to a cozy environment and scale down the pace. The inn may be historic, but rather than being austere, and forbidding, it is a portal to the past.
Like so many of the Historic Hotels of America, a membership of some 200 hotels that have faithfully maintained their historic integrity, architecture and ambiance, the Morrison-Clark Inn has a wonderful story that you simply step into once you enter its door.
In 1864, businessmen David Morrison, a developer who made his fortune selling flour and feed to the U. S. Government during the Civil War, and Reuben Clark, who became wealthy through land investments, owning a grocery store, and serving as Washington, DC’s jail commissioner, each owned a new, elegant townhouse in a posh neighborhood.
A later owner of Clark’s house added a Chinese Chippendale porch and a Shanghai roof after visiting the Orient.
In 1923, the Morrison home was acquired by The Women’s Army and Navy League and converted it into an inexpensive place for America’s enlisted men to stay while in Washington, D.C. First Ladies traditionally presided over the military club, hosting teas and fund-raisers to maintain its operations.
First Lady Grace Coolidge headed the receiving line when the facility first opened in 1923, and Mamie Eisenhower and Jacqueline Kennedy were also active in the organization.
In 1943, at the peak of World War II, the efforts of these women provided beds for more than 45,000 visitors and served nearly 85,000 meals. It became known as the Soldiers’, Sailors’, Marines’, and Airmen’s Club after 1954.
During its 57-year history, the facility grew to include the Clark home, underwent name changes to accommodate airmen, and in 1972, expanded its mission to serve female members of the armed forces.
When it was converted to the Morrison-Clark Hotel, the 19th century mansion was lovingly restored in 1987 by William Adair, who supervised renovations of the White House under Mrs. Kennedy. He preserved the distinctive historic exterior with its exquisite red-tiled Shanghai roof and the Chinese Chippendale porch, and many of the interior details of the building, including lofty, medallioned ceilings, four pier mirrors, and Italian Carrara marble fireplaces.
Staying here is to experience a peace and graciousness in counterpoint to a city where power veritably pulsates. It is no wonder that corporate titans and VIPs choose to stay here rather than the big convention hotels that cater to the Convention Center just a couple of blocks away.
The Inn offers all the modern amenities and services – from wireless Internet access and a full range of business services in a 24-hour business center, to in-room spa services by Relax & Rejuvenate including massage therapy, event planning and catering, a sophisticated restaurant; complimentary access to Vida One Spa & Fitness Center, located in the Verizon Center building within walking distance from the hotel, complimentary coffee. It also offers parking (valet at $26/day or self-park at $23/day) and sedan service. The Morrison-Clark also can arrange for child care services.
We loved that it was walking distance from just about everywhere we wanted to visit – the White House, the Smithsonian museums on the Mall, including the National Museum of the American Indian (see Discovery, October 12). It is also walking distance to the International Spy Museum, the National Portrait Gallery (only recently reopened) and National Archives. The Metro station and Convention center are only a few blocks away.
The Morrison-Clark Inn features 54 guestrooms, which are individually decorated in neo-classical or French country styles. The rooms are equipped with balconies or bay windows and feature Victorian antique and reproduction furniture, premium bedding, one-line speaker phone with voicemail and data port, mini-bar, hair dryer, and a complimentary copy of the Washington Post. Deluxe Rooms have either one queen size bed or two twin beds.
Standard Rooms are decorated with traditional armoires and desks as well as custom-designed, hand-crafted pieces; complemented with muted taupe furnishings; Victorian Rooms are exquisitely appointed with turn-of-the-century antiques, chandeliers, and richly hued draperies, these rooms also feature decorative fireplaces and balconies; Parlor Suites are two-room suites featuring traditional French-country warmth, including pine armories, wicker furnishings, handsome quilts, and a pullout sofa in the living room.
Our room, one of the Victorians, had high ceilings, a refrigerator, and though it overlooked New York Avenue, was quiet.
The 75-seat restaurant is renowned and has been featured in Condé Nast Traveler, Gourmet, and the Zagat guide. Chef Janis McLean delivers tantalizing, Southern-influenced cuisine (Chesapeake Oyster Stew with melted leeks and Virginia country ham; Crab Cakes with a local recipe were on a recent dinner menu) — in an elegant atmosphere featuring ten-foot gilded mirrors, Italian Carrera marble fireplaces, and a tranquil veranda and courtyard. Its a wine list has been recognized with The Wine Spectator’s “Award of Excellence” for five years running.
On Sundays, brunch is served in the outdoor courtyard, featuring selections such as Chesapeake Eggs Benedict and Whole Wheat Waffles served with Fresh Berries, Strawberry Syrup, two eggs and Applewood Smoked Bacon ($35 with champagne, $30 without).
The Morrison-Clark Inn is due to be expanded – it is acquiring a historic church located next door, which will be converted to rooms and event space.
Packages available include a Weekend Getaway, featuring early check in and late check-out, complimentary full American breakfast ($159); and a Centuries Package, featuring accommodations in a Victorian room, complimentary welcome drink in the drawing room, complimentary dinner in the Morrison Clark Restaurant, available Monday through Thursday ($229). The Holiday Homecoming package, available through much of winter, includes breakfast with accommodations. Check the website for more packages and special.
The company that owns the Morrison-Clark also owns the Henley Park, an English Tudor-style building built as an apartment house in the 1900s, which was restored and now operates as a European-style hotel; the Hotel Lombardy (21st & Pine), and the Washington Plaza, a modern hotel with 350 rooms and a pool (guests at the Morrison-Clark can use it).
Morrison-Clark Historic Hotel and Restaurant, 1015 L St NW, Washington D.C. 20001, 202-898-1200, 800-332-7898, www.morrisonclark.com.
Historic Hotels of America is a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Historic Hotels has identified more than 200 hotels that have faithfully maintained their historic integrity, architecture and ambiance. To be selected for this prestigious program, a hotel must be at least 50 years old, listed in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places or recognized as having historic significance. A directory of member hotels can be purchased for $4 by sending a check to National Trust Historic Hotels of America, P.O. Box 320, Washington, D.C. 20055-0320. Rooms at any of the member hotels can be reserved by calling 800-678-8946 or at www.historichotels.org.
Thursday, 3 January, 2008
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