Built in 1907 as a grand private residence, the Woodley Park Guest House, like many large homes in the DC area, was converted to rooming house use during WWII. It continued in that use for the next two decades, until it was purchased in the late 1960’s by a retiring Navy officer who wanted an income generating property to supplement his retirement. He continued to operate Woodley as a rooming house while completing the zoning process to convert Woodley to nightly rental, whereupon it became a BNB – Bed-No-Breakfast!
Woodley was a shabby but habitable DC accommodation when we purchased the house in 2000. The beautiful pink brick was painted a dark, dirty yellow, so we dubbed the house The Gulden’s Mustard Palace. That name stuck until we removed not only the ugly yellow paint, but a brown coat and a white coat as well.
The house had a few really interesting and exciting quirks when we purchased it. For example, when you dragged your heavy luggage up the rickety front porch stairs, the whole structure shook and the porch threatened to immediately collapse. When you plugged your hair dryer into the wall, you were likely to zap the electricity throughout the house. When you took a shower in the largest of the 2nd floor bedrooms, you were likely to flood the phone closet below. Quite honestly, the place was a bit scary!
And what did this stellar accommodation serve for breakfast? Well, the gentleman who managed the house for the previous owner used to purchase a dozen croissants twice a week, and serve them until they were gone, accompanied by coffee in Styrofoam cups. There was definitely room for improvement! But the prices were right: $42 for a single with a shared bath and $57 for a double with a private bath. Such a deal!
We intended to close Woodley and start the renovation immediately on purchase, but we inherited a full house with reservations on the books through the summer of 2000. It turns out that LOTS of people didn’t much care about the condition of the house as long as the price was right, which it evidently was.
It was actually a good thing that the renovation didn’t start immediately. For six months we ran the B&B, as is, fixing things right and left and getting to know wonderful guests from around the world. We talked to everyone about our renovation plans, and our guests gave us tremendous insight into the features that were most important to them.
We closed the house and began the renovation the end of September 2000. We reopened, partially complete, in May of 2001. Throughout the summer months we completed one floor after another, until all of the rooms on all four floors were finished and ready for occupancy on September 5, 2001. Our first week was fantastic! The house was full of academics who were in DC for a Latin American Studies conference. It was a great group. The reservation book was filling up for months in advance. All was going well. We had high hopes for a bright and prosperous future.
A number of our guests had checked out on September 10, 2001. The rest checked out on September 11, and were on their way to the airport, or already on planes heading to various US and Latin American destinations, when planes hit the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. Within hours, Washington DC literally emptied out. There were no cars on the streets, no people in the hotels, no diners in the restaurants. It was eerily quiet. For weeks we erased one reservation after another from the book, wondering how long we could hold on.
Slowly but surely, guests started trickling back in, and, as before, they were wonderful guests. They loved the house. They loved the renovation. They returned every time they were in DC and they sent their friends. We had a great time together. We had deep discussions and hilarious conversations. We made many lifelong friends.
In fact, running Woodley was such a pleasure for us that in September 2003 we purchased a dilapidated old embassy property in Dupont Circle with the intention of opening a second B&B. After an extensive 3 1/2-year renovation of the new property, we opened the Embassy Circle Guest House in March 2007.
It is now 2020. We have been B&B owners for 20 years at Woodley and 13 years at Embassy – and we still love it. We love walking into the dining room and meeting you all each morning. We love the conversations, the friendships, the shared time, and the shared humor. You guys are the best. You’re the reason we love being innkeepers!
That being said, we think we’ll stop at two B&B’s …..
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