Built of concrete and cement blocks, it is constructed in a modified
Spanish Mission style that makes it cool and comfortable at all times.
Its public rooms, from the main lobby to the diningrooms, from the
ladies' parlor to the telephone and cable rooms, from the barber shop to
the billiard room, are large, airy, and most attractively furnished. Its
ball room, opening on three sides to the breezes borne in from the
Caribbean, is a delight to the disciples of Terpsichore, while its
open-air swimming pool, said to be the largest hotel swimming pool in
the world, affords ideal facilites for those who otherwise would sigh
for the surf. Persons who have visited every leading hotel in the New
World, from the Rio Grande southward to the Strait of Magellan, say that
it is without a superior in all that region and, perhaps, without an
equal except for one in Buenos Aries.
Here one may find accommodations to suit his taste and largely to meet
the necessities of his pocketbook. The best rooms with bath cost $5 a
day for one, or $6 for two. Table-d'hote meals are served at $1 each,
while those who prefer it may secure club breakfasts and a' la carte
service. Anyone who has visited the Hotel Washington, situated as it is
on Colon Beach, where the breakers sweep in from the Caribbean Sea,
feels Uncle Sam is no less successful as a hotel keeper than as a
builder of canals.
HOTEL WASHINGTON ATTRACTS MOST GUESTS IN DRY SEASON
The Panama Canal Review, December 5, 1952
Dry-season winds that bend the palms that circle the Hotel Washington
bring the Atlantic side hotel the year's largest numbers of guests.
The annual upswing in visitors that marks the months of the trade winds
is traditional and is not expected to change during the coming dry
season, which will be the hotel's fortieth as a stopping place for
Isthmians and tourists.
The numbers of both groups of guests increase considerably during the
dry season but the proportions change to about half local guests and
half tourists, compared to 75 percent local guests during the rainy season.
The tourist visitors debark from the ships on regular runs and the
cruise ships which visit in greatest number during the dry season, the
majority of which, if they stop on the Isthmus, dock on the Atlantic side.
Isthmians, who become more outing-minded when the rains have stopped,
often stay at the Washington in the course of their rambles around their
own Isthmian back yard.
For many of them the charms of a trade-wind-conditioned room, with
innerspring mattress, balcony, and maybe even breakfast in bed, outweigh
the attractions of other types of more demanding Isthmian junkets. The
swimming pool, tennis and handball courts also draw other local visitors.
The position of the Washington as a stopping place and weekend resort
for government employees is traditional and well secured by their 25
percent discount on room rates.
Parties, weddings, teas, and other social gatherings draw many
Isthmians to the hotel. Few days pass without some get-together in one
of the public rooms - the gilt-decorated main dining room, looking out
to the Caribbean and the Atlantic entrance to the Canal; the adjoining
Fountain Room, dominated by a plant-filled, fountain-sprayed niche; the
lounge, between the bar and lobby; or the grand ballroom, with its gilt
and heavy crystal chandeliers and a tradition of gala parties.
Other local visitors come in just to eat, attracted there by the
efforts of Herbert Thompson, the chef, whose specialty is plank steak.
The present hotel building was authorized by former President William
Howard Taft after he visited the Isthmus in 1910 and noted the absence
of suitable commercial hotel accommodations on the Atlantic side of the Isthmus.
Early planners visualized that the Hotel's park-like grounds would be
one of its main attractions - a belief that has proved to be very well
founded and is most apparent during the dry season when the many
flowering trees and shrubs in the deep lawns are at their best.
But the sight and the sound of the Caribbean beating against the sea
wall around the hotel is probably the charm that endears the place most
to most of the Washington's visitors, who take their comfort with their
ringside view of Manzanillo Bay and ships entering and leaving the Canal.
NEW CHAPTER BEGINS IN HISTORY OF 40-YEAR-OLD HOTEL WASHINGTON
The Panama Canal Review, January 1, 1954
AN AVENUE OF PALMS leads to the Hotel Washington in Colon which is
today under new management. After over 40 years of operation by the
United States Government or its agencies the hotel has been leased to
the firm of Inversiones Motta, S.A., and will be operated by them.
The transfer today of operations of the 40-year-old Hotel Washington in
Colon to the firm of Inversiones Motta, S.A., begins another chapter in
the history of the stately-looking, palm-surrounded big building facing
the Caribbean. It has been a social center for Atlantic siders, a
hostelry for distinguished guests, an overnight shelter for Canal
pilots, and a weekend resort for Pacific siders for many years.
On December 22 Arturo Motta, representing the five-brother company,
signed a lease for the hotel and a contract for its management.
Governor Seybold, in his capacity as president of the Panama Canal
Company, signed for the company.
In a statement issued at the time Mr. Motta expressed the hope that the
Atlantic side community would use the hotel's facilities and make it
their own center to an even greater extent than they have in the past.
The name of the hotel will not be changed; local humorists, however,
have already dubbed it the "Motel Washington," which is as bad a pun as
anyone ever heard.
Although no Canal Zone hotel has ever before been operated under
contract, contract management is not new in Canal history. During
construction days the clubhouses were operated by the YMCA; employees
paid regular dues and were given certain privileges, like reduced rates
at movies, on their membership. For a number of years restaurants in the
Canal Zone were operated under contract by Carl Strom. The present Ancon
clubhouse and the Balboa police station were both restaurants under
The early history of the Hotel Washington is well known. The original
hotel was built about 1870 as a residence for employees of the Panama
Railroad Comapny. It was a two-story frame building located on the
present hotel site. In 1905, when construction of the Canal swelled
American forces in the Canal Zone, a third floor was added to the hotel
and in 1908 it was taken over by the Isthmian Canal Commission.
In May 1910, the Washington began to take transient visitors and the
load soom became so heavy that the adjacent Bennington House was also
turned into an inn for overnight guests, or those staying longer.
President William H. Taft, a frequent visitor here during construction
days, was convinced of the need for a good Atlantic side hotel -
although his favorite local stopping place was the residence of Col.
George W. Goethals - and in 1910 he authorized construction of the new
Hotel Washington. He decided on its architecture, selected the
architects, and set the sum of $500,000 as the top limit for its cost.
The old hotel was moved, the seawall reinforced, and work begun on the
new building. On March 13, 1913, the Washington -as we know it today-
housed its first guest, a well-known American named Vincent Astor. Ten
days later it was opened formally to the public.
During World War II the Washington was an eerie place. Signs in the
corridors and the elevator advised guests of the whereabouts of air raid
shelters. The roof, a vantage spot for sightseers, was off limits. An
anti-aircraft battery was located next door, on the swimming pool side,
and from time to time guests were notified, in advance, that there
would be firing practice. They could then find urgent business elsewhere
or stuff their ears with cotton.
None of the halls were lighted, except by low-burning lanterns set on
the floor, and blackout restrictions were stringently enforced. With
submarines lurking so close outside that at least one ship was torpedoed
only three hours after it sailed from Cristobal, the precautions were
necessary and few people complained.
The hotel was full of strangers on important war business and an
occasional survivor of a torpedoing found his way through its hospitable
doors. Outside, in full view of the hotel, row on row of dull gray
painted ships waited for transit or to form convoys for the Caribbean
crossing, and air-and sea-craft from the nearby naval base at Coco Solo
buzzed or roared about their particular missions.
In the fall of 1950 the hotel underwent a minor face lifting. The lawns
and gardens were reseeded and new planting done. Some of the interior
was painted, new furniture added, and tennis and handball courts near
the swimming pool were readied for use by guests. Earlier this year more
interior redecorating was done.
The Hotel Washington is currently run by a consortium of Arabs, and has
been turned into a gambling casino. The have also built a condominium
next door at the former Ft. DeLesseps.