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Staff Members of the Hotel Washington Hold Keys to Storied Past;
D.C. Hotel Set to Close 90 Years After Opening

By Jen Haberkorn, The Washington TimesMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Dec. 10, 2007 - When Nick Costakis started his job as a water boy at the Hotel Washington in 1956, at the age of 17, real silver was on the tables of the rooftop restaurant. Diners could watch jetliners approach the new National Airport above the barren land that is now Rosslyn.

Over time, Costakis and the Hotel Washington packed away much of the silver and buildings went up in the District and across the Potomac on the Virginia skyline.

Now, the Hotel Washington is set to close at the end of the year, 90 years after it opened and nearly 52 years after Costakis started his job. Owner Istithmar Hotels Washington, a subsidiary of Dubai World, plans to replace the property in about a year with a swanky Starwood brand W hotel.

"I've enjoyed it very much," Costakis said of his tenure at the Hotel Washington, much of it in the banquet department. "I'm sorry we're leaving, but we can't help it."

He said he learned a lot and saw his share of interesting guests: heads of state and other politicians, celebrities and even the national turkey, which stayed at the hotel before the annual pardon.

Costakis often served John W. McCormack, who lived at the hotel during much of his tenure as speaker of the House in the 1960s.

"He was in Suite 719," Costakis recalled as if it were yesterday, rattling off the speaker's breakfast menu. "I used to be his waiter every morning."

Costakis said his friendly nature with customers helped him in ways he never imagined. One guest, whom Mr. Costakis said he never knew by name, advised him 25 years ago to buy shares of Gulf Oil.

"The guy came to me, put his hand on my back and said, 'Son, go and buy. You're going to make money. Don't share nothing,'" he said. "I used to serve the guy, and he liked me."

Costakis tripled his investment.

Among the celebrities who stopped by the hotel were John Wayne, Elvis Presley, Casey Kasem and Jodie Foster.

Presley's stay was documented in a 1994 book by Joyce Bova, a former staffer for the investigations subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. Bova claimed she had an affair with the singer, much of it at the hotel, beginning in late 1969 when she was 25.

Bova said she met Presley, and gave him her number in Washington, backstage at one of his Las Vegas shows that summer. She took the trip to relax from overtime work on a probe of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, Bova said.

She said she received a call from Presley in Washington the same day he posed for his famous picture with President Nixon. Their affair began that day in Presley's room, Suite 506, she said.

For many years, Suite 506 was preserved as it appeared during his time, said Abel Anane, a 16-year employee of the hotel.

The hotel's well-known rooftop bar and restaurant offers some of the best views of the city. It was popular with Marion Barry, the former D.C. mayor and Ward 8 council member, said Summer Belman, director of sales and marketing at the hotel.

In the 1980s, when she was a waitress in the restaurant, she served a Long Island iced tea to Barry.

"At that time, I didn't know anything about drinks. I rushed and brought him this long bottle of iced tea," she said. "When I came back, he was laughing and said, 'Thank you very much, but I need a Long Island iced tea.' I had to rush to the bartender and find out what a Long Island iced tea was."

Employees said such memories make it hard for them to leave.

After a "Last Hurrah" party on Dec. 31, the hotel will close for renovations. Starwood Hotels & Resorts wasn't able to provide details of the changes in store.

Items from the property will be sold at an auction, likely early next month, Belman said. No matter what goes, the memories will stay with the 250 Hotel Washington employees, whose average tenure is 17 years.

"It's heartbreaking, to be honest with you," Anane said.

"We're dealing with it day by day. It's going to hit us at the end when we close the door. It's been a great ride."

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To see more of The Washington Times, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.washtimes.com.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Washington Times

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