Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Old Postcard Wednesday--The Hotel Raleigh, Washington, D.C.

I selected the postcard of The Hotel Raleigh this week because speakers at both the Democratic and Republican conventions have said the nicest things about Washington, D.C. Of course I'm kidding. Sort of. If you click on the postcard photo and on the description on the back you can view in greater detail this striking lobby where "national figures in political, business, and social life gather." Somehow, I have a feeling that the same wording might not be used to describe a major hotel lobby in that area these days. There's something nostalgically innocent about the hotel's particular claim to clientele. So factual, the admission that national power figures used this lobby to meet and greet, and OMG, to engage in some sort of social life...

As enchanting as the place appears in the postcard I was hoping that I'd learn it still stands. But no, it does not.
According to information at, The Hotel Raleigh was a 12-floor hotel that was built in several phases from 1897 until 1912. The one-page fact sheet notes status as "demolished" but doesn't give a date. It does, however, provide a lovely photo taken of the hotel from the outside that you can click to enlarge.

I found interesting information mentioning The Hotel Raleigh in an unlikely place, an article in the March-April 2001 online issue of Public Roads Magazine. Published by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, the article describes the birth of our national road system:
On Dec. 12, 1914, state highway officials met in Washington, D.C., at the Raleigh Hotel at 10 a.m. to establish a national organization that would allow for the discussion of legislative, economic, and technical subjects and would draft a legislative proposal for federal cooperation in road construction. They were joined by Logan Waller Page, director of the Agriculture Department's U.S. Office of Public Roads (OPR), and key members of his staff. On that day, the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) was organized, with Henry G. Shirley, chief engineer of the Maryland State Roads Commission, as the first president.

The article includes a photo of the founders of the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) at the organizational meeting in the Raleigh Hotel on Dec. 12, 1914. Another photo shows the hotel in the 1920's with the Capitol Building in the background, and a caption underneath indicating an earlier date for the construction of the hotel and gives the demolition date:
State highway officials formed the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) on Dec. 12, 1914, at the Raleigh Hotel (center of photo taken in 1920s) on Pennsylvania Avenue at 12th Street NW in Washington, D.C. Built in 1893 and torn down in 1964, the hotel was also where AASHO officials met on Aug. 15, 1916, to discuss draft regulations implementing the Federal Road Act of 1916.

Toward the end of the article what was basically begun at The Hotel Raleigh is summed:

At AASHO's suggestion, Secretary Houston asked Thomas H. MacDonald to head the Bureau of Public Roads. After the salary was increased from $4,500 to $6,000 a year, MacDonald accepted the position of "chief of bureau" and took office on July 1, 1919. Under a variety of titles, he would hold the position until 1953, but he was always known as "The Chief." His vision of a federal-aid program founded on a federal-state partnership would enrich the cause to which Logan Waller Page had dedicated his life.

Under MacDonald, the program would be set on its modern course by the Federal Highway Act of 1921, which established the "system" concept that is still an essential element of the federal-aid highway program in the form of the National Highway System created under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991.

The program, created in 1916 and modified in 1921, would transform the nation. It built a network of paved roads in the 1920s and 1930s. It helped the nation through the Depression of the 1930s by providing needed jobs for the unemployed. It supported the defense effort in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, and many other military actions. It gave birth to the Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways, which has often been called the greatest public works project in history and which reshaped our identity as individuals and as a nation. And today, with a funding level over $30 billion a year, the program is helping the country enhance an intermodal transportation network to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

But through all those changes, the federal-aid highway program still relies on partnerships, particularly the partnership formed with the states on July 11, 1916. It is appropriate, however, to say that the federal-state partnership actually began earlier when the partners collaborated to create the Federal Aid Road Act.

In looking at both Google and Yahoo maps the building that replaced The Hotel Raleigh is seen as a nondescript chunk of a building that isn't identified as other nearby buildings are (The Department of Commerce, Old Post Office Pavillion, Internal Revenue Service, J. Edgar Hoover F.B.I. Building). It appears to me that the hotel stood across Pennsylvania Ave. NW from the Old Post Office. The site where The Hotel Raleigh once stood is marked by the red 'A' flag in the map below. (Click on photo to enlarge.)


Jennifer said...

Well, I know the Old Post Office well, and can't bring up what is across the street ... there is a nondescript plaza nearby.

Oh, I miss my city.

Thank you for another interesting post.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

It's interesting that the post-card is 1953, because the second i saw the decor i thought of Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" and it's retro 50s look.

Beautiful architecture - shame its gone

Old Postcard Wednesdays are officially part of my weekly survival plan now (IE something to look forward too)

Katie said...

What an interesting interior. It's very modern looking, considering when it was built. Too bad these walls no longer exist, because I bet they had some really good stories to tell! I live in DC from 86-88; fun place to live, but oh what a company town!

Lydia said...

I haven't visited there yet. My sis in Indiana has been twice in the last two years, a parent chaperone on her sons' separate grammar school trips to D.C. It's great that they have those field trips.
I didn't know this was your city; wonder if it's your hometown...

Now you've given me another movie to put on the DVD rental list on the fridge.
It makes me SO happy to know that you look forward to Old Postcard Wednesdays; I'll try to never disappoint you!

It really did have a great look to it. I'd love to see a photo of the interior of one of the rooms.
So, what were you doing in that company town - working on Capitol Hill in some capacity? Interesting places you've lived!

Robert M Kraus Sr said...

Well, the Raleigh Hotel in DC was a magnificent structure. I spent time there during World War II. It was a wonderful place to relax and have a drink and have conversation. For some unknown reason it came into my head today (9/29/09), and I wondered if it was still there. All that I am able to find on the web tells me that it is gone . . . .when? what's there now? Sad. But then, at my age, there are a lot of sad things.

Robert M Kraus
Akron Ohio



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