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Four Seasons Washington, DC | by Dick Johnson NYC
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Four Seasons Washington, DC

Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC

2800 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington DC

 

In early 2012 Seasons Restaurant, formerly the Aux Beaux Champs (The beautiful fields), re-opened following a $1 million dollar renovation. Michael Dalton, vice president of design for Strategic Hotels, reinvented Seasons with custom made English walnut dining tables, mahogany dining chairs and signature lamps referencing the Federal Period throughout the room.

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The Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC, which opened in 1979, can trace its financial wherewithal to Léopold Dreyfus, a French man who in 1850 began trading grain for a profit. Dreyfus incorporated the world’s first international grain trading company under the name Louis-Dreyfus - being too young to use his own name he chose to operate under his father's name Louis Dreyfus. Leopold later changed his surname to Louis-Dreyfus - thus founding one of great French family dynasties. Leopold's great grandson, William Louis-Dreyfus and other family members continue to grow the privately held company.

 

William Louis-Dreyfus and his first wife Judith Bowles have a daughter, Julia Louis-Dreyfus (yes, that Elaine from Seinfeld). When Julia was asked by accesshollywood.com what her dad does she responded "He does stuff that I don’t understand with grains and energy and selling commodities. That goes in one ear and out the other".

 

Washington D.C. real estate developer Ben Jacobs (the J in JBG Associates) approached the New York based Louis Dreyfus Property Group with the idea of building a Holiday Inn style hotel and office complex on land acquired in a Georgetown neighborhood. The mixed-use project known as Georgetown Plaza would go up overlooking the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (the water transportation system built by George Washington) but also adjacent to a forlorn city heating plant and an overnight depot for city buses. Representing the "money" behind the deal, William Louis-Dreyfus had the final say on all the projects details. A significant selling point for the site was its street address - 2800 Pennsylvania Avenue NW - the address of the White House is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.

 

The architect, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, designed a 300-room hotel with a red brick exterior that met the historic aspects of the surrounding Georgetown neighborhood. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill were also famously known for designing Laurence Rockefeller's Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on Hawaii's Big Island (1965).

 

Before ground was broken Louis-Dreyfus determined a 5-star hotel was better suited for the site and he sent two company men to Toronto to talk with Isadore Sharp - the founder of Four Seasons Hotels.

The two men were Ernest Steiner now the retired Vice Chairman and President of Louis Dreyfus Holding Company and Jeffrey I. Sussman who established Louis Dreyfus Property Group in 1971. Sharp negotiated a 75 year management contract with the group for the first hotel in the U.S. named Four Seasons.

 

According to Isadore Sharp's book "Four Seasons - the True Story of a Business Philosophy" Ben Jacobs was uneasy with the shift from a 3-star hotel to a 5 star hotel and perturbed that William Louis-Dreyfus always sided with Four Season's requirements to reconfigure the hotel. Sharp quotes Ben Jacobs asking William Louis-Dreyfus "What happens if Sharp wants to paint the building purple?" Louis-Dreyfus responded "Then we will paint it purple."

 

The footprint of the buildings remained the same but the room count was reduced from 300 to 210 and the first floor became much grander with elaborately designed lobby and lounge with beautiful flower gardens called The Garden Terrace Club & Bar. The hotel's fine dining room was located on the lower level - the Aux Beaux Champs - a French, silk napery restaurant.

 

In 1978 Isadore Sharp recruited Wolf Hengst from the Shoreham Hotel (now the Omni Shoreham Hotel) to be the Four Seasons Washington D.C. first general manager. Hengst later served as president, worldwide operations for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

 

In the mid 70's Isadore Sharp determined quality of service would be a pillar of Four Season's business platform. As employed at The Inn on the Park London - the concept of a concierge was brought from Europe to the Four Seasons Washington D.C. Wolf Hengst hired Jack Nargil, who knew Washington D.C. inside and out, as the hotel's concierge and stationed him in the lobby near the front desk.

 

Service made the hotel special – so much so that the new Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC, was featured in the introduction to Tom Peters’ book "In Search of Excellence". The success of this prompted Four Seasons to install concierge services at all of its hotels. Nargil remained with the Four Seasons Hotel for 13 years and was elected as the first president of Les Clefs d'Or in the United States.

 

Four Seasons Hotel Washington was the first hotel to fly the Four Seasons flag in the US, and the Canadian company had a challenge convincing travelers that this unknown brand was the place to stay

In Washington. As a Canadian company it had a challenge convincing travelers that this unknown brand was the place to stay in Washington. Opening in 1979 the Four Seasons Washington D.C. had the opportunity to play host too many events surrounding the presidential election of 1980 between incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter and the Republican opponent, Ronald Reagan. Reagan's camp had asked Wolf Hengst for a donation - the hotel countered by offering Reagan free accommodations when in D.C. Reagan held a three-day fund raiser at the hotel which resulted in many of the country's most influential business leaders staying at the hotel and becoming long term customers.

 

** 1998 $20 million Expansion and Renovation **

 

In 1998 Louis Dreyfus Property Group and Four Seasons General Manager Stan Bromley embarked on a 14 month $20 million renovation and expansion of hotel suites, health club facility, and adjacent office space. In the adjacent 60,000 sq. ft. office building the upper floors were converted into 40 new hotel suites. On the first and second floors of this adjacent building, 11,000 sq. ft. were renovated to house the office of Pardoe Real Estate. The existing health club facility was expanded to fill 8,000 sq. ft. and renovations included extensive high-end millwork. A landscaped plaza was constructed to serve as a connector link between the two buildings with a pedestrian walkway. Also substantial upgrades to the back-of-house facilities included the food storage, room service, butcher shop, locker rooms, employee cafeteria, and security offices.

 

Stan Bromley was also known for his circumspection. In 1991 Marla Maples threw a ring at Donald Trump during a quarrel in the Four Seasons lobby, and the security camera caught it on tape. David Armstrong of the San Francisco Chronicle quotes Bromley " 'Hard Copy' offered $25,000 for the tape. Trump called me and I said, 'Don't worry, Mr. Trump, it's gone. I destroyed it.' "

 

In 2001 Chef Douglas McNeil retired from the Four Seasons Washington DC, a hotel he had opened in the same capacity in 1979. His successor was another Scotsman Douglas Anderson, a 14-year Four Seasons veteran, most recently the Executive Chef at the Four Seasons Seattle.

 

** 2004 Expansion and renovation ***

 

Facing stiff competition from the new 400-room Mandarin Oriental and the new 86-room Ritz-Carlton Georgetown the Louis Dreyfus Property Group and Christopher Hunsberger, the hotel's general manager embarked on a 6-month renovation to increase the size of their standard rooms from 350 to 480 square feet, dropping the total room count from 252 to 211. The larger rooms are part of the hotel's strategy to stay competitive. To minimize guest disruption during the remodel the hotel would at times deliberately over staff and were very liberal with offers of complimentary drinks because of the construction noise. According to Hunsberger guest ratings were very high during the $25 million major remodel. Hunsberger became a Four Season's Senior Vice President Operations, North America in 2008.

 

** Mobil Five Star **

 

In 2005 Mobil Travel Guide announced the only new Mobil Five-Star hotel in 2005 was the Four Seasons Hotel, Washington, D.C. The Four Seasons is the only D.C. hotel to boast the Mobil Travel Guide’s five star honor and one of only 31 in the U.S. to receive Five Stars.

 

** Four Seasons Up for Sale **

 

Following 27 years of ownership, the Louis Dreyfus Property Group put the Washington D.C. Four Seasons Hotel up for sale in January 2006. The asking price was $170 million or approximately $800,000 per room. William Louis-Dreyfus may have thought what more could they accomplish after receiving the coveted fifth Mobil star. The previous top hotel sale in the D.C. market was the former Monarch

Hotel, now the Fairmont Washington, D.C. Hotel sold in December 2002 for $350,000 a room. Four Seasons would likely remain as manager - it has at least 50 years remaining on a 75-year management contract.

 

Strategic Hotel Capital, Inc. (NYSE: SLH) announced on January 23, 2006 they signed an agreement to acquire the 211-room Four Season Washington, D.C. for $168.39 million. The hotel has 160 rooms, 51 suites, 12,500 square feet of meeting space, 24,000 square feet of retail space, underground parking, and a 12,500 square foot Four Seasons fitness club and spa. Strategic agreed to pay Louis-Dreyfus an annual license fee of $50,000 for the 2,000 pieces of art throughout the hotel that is part of Louis Drefus' personal art collection including works by Thornton Dial, Raymond Mason and Nellie Mae Rowe. Strategic Hotel Capital forecasts an EBITDA between $10.4 million and $11.4 million in the first twelve months of ownership. The sale also included the transfer of a receivable in the original amount of $400,000 due from Christopher B. Hunsberger, the general manager.

 

Laurence Geller, ceo of Strategic Hotels & Resorts, commented, "The Washington, D.C. market has significant growth yet to come. We believe our physical improvements to the food and beverage and lobby areas will position this hotel to reap the benefits of the market growth while the hotel continues to lead the market for the foreseeable future."

 

In a related event LDW Resort & Hotel Development (LDW is an acronym for Louis Dreyfus and Woodbridge) was established by Property Group Partners in 2000 for the specific purpose of developing luxury resort and hotel properties in partnership with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. LDW is a joint venture of Property Group Partners and The Woodbridge Company Limited. The Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole in Wyoming opened in December 2003, and the Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley opened in March 2006. Strategic Hotels & Resorts, Inc. acquired the Four Seasons Jackson Hole and Four Seasons Silicon Valley from The Woodbridge Company Limited in 2011.

 

** Bourbon Steak **

 

In December 2008 Strategic opened Michael Min's Bourbon Steak in the space formerly occupied by The Garden Terrace Club & Bar. It is known for its complementary duck fat fries and signature dish - steak poached in butter. The designer David Rockwell is known for restaurant interior work including Bobby Flay Steak at the Borgata in Atlantic City. Strategic also has a Bourbon Steak at its Fairmont Hotel in Scottsdale, AZ. While Mina oversees the menu, David Varley serves as executive chef at the restaurant.

 

** The Royal Suite **

 

The Four Seasons Hotel unveiled its 4,000-square-foot Royal Suite -- supposedly the biggest hotel suite in D.C. - in 2009. The $12,500 per night suite includes car service and a personalized shopper. It is the hotel’s sixth suite and includes a wooden private patio, gym, library, Bang & Olufsen systems and bullet-resistant glass. The foyer has a Swarovski crystal ceiling shining down on sparkling stone mosaic tiling. The dining room, which seats 10, sits adjacent to a 1,000 square-foot outdoor patio with a fire pit that overlooks Georgetown. For entourages, the entire wing the suite resides in can be closed off to include eight bedrooms totaling 9,000 square feet.

 

** Seasons Restaurant **

 

In early 2012 Seasons Restaurant, formerly the Aux Beaux Champs (The beautiful fields), re-opened following a $1 million dollar renovation. Michael Dalton, vice president of design for Strategic Hotels, reinvented Seasons with custom made English walnut dining tables, mahogany dining chairs and signature lamps referencing the Federal Period throughout the room. For guests who simply want a cup of coffee while catching up on the morning news, a separate living room area with a flat screen TV is available. Most importantly the tables remain distant enough from each other to assure privacy. The power brokers’ favored and most visible tables are untouched. For monumental business agreements, a private dining room with a separate entrance and exit remains available. As for the tenured staff, the only change is their uniforms. They have guests’ preferences memorized and understand that timely and unobtrusive service remains the top priority. The former Aux Beaux Champs (named changed in 1993) was a Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning restaurant under long-term chef Douglas MacNeil.

 

** Art Collection **

 

In 2010 Strategic Hotels replaced the 2,000 piece Louis-Dreyfus art collection. The firm Soho Myraid Gallery was contracted to create a new contemporary art collection for the Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC. According to the Four Season's press release the collection is representative of American artists and is composed of more than 1,650 pieces, 400 of which are premier, blue chip and commissioned pieces for the public spaces and corridors. Among the prominent public area pieces are works by Roni Stretch, Helen Frankenthaler, Andy Warhol, Robert Mangold, Ron Richmond, Andrea Rosenberg and Andrei Petrov. These were purchased from private collections and exclusive galleries throughout the United States.

 

** Actual results 2007 through 2011 **

 

Four Seasons Hotel, Washington D.C. Results from the Strategic Hotels & Resorts, Inc. Annual Reports:

 

YE 2011 YE 2010 YE 2009 YE 2008 YE 2007

Rooms Available 222 222 222 211 211

Total Revenue (mil) $61,736 $58,402 $57,036 $63,455 $53,670

EBITDA (mil) 14,305 12,666 11,332 7,806 10,917

Average Occupancy 71.5% 69.9% 67.9% 66.2% 71.5%

ADR 530.23 522.01 509.53 533.61 542.58

RevPAR 378.97 364.64 346.04 353.50 388.00

Total RevPAR 761.89 720.75 703.89 665.76 696.88

  

As of February 2012 Christian Clerc is the Regional Vice President and General Manager Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC. He previously served as Regional Vice President overseeing Four Seasons Hotel Mexico City and Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita and Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica.

 

Text compliled by Dick Johnson. All photos by Dick Johnson

richardlloydjohnson@hotmail.com

212-832-0098

February, 2012

 

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Taken on February 17, 2012