Originally Published 09/24/01
On the corner of 23rd and F streets stands a mysterious white building with royal blue shutters and a neon yellow sign blaring “The Allen Lee.” The edifice seems out of place on the border of the GW campus.
Although rarely frequented by GW students, people of various ethnicities can be found sitting on the steps outside the entrance of the building almost every night. So, what exactly is the mystery behind this place?
The Allen Lee is a Foggy Bottom landmark. The 85-room hotel is more than 100 years old, said manager Dennis Hollier, who describes the hotel as “quaint.”
Built in the late 1800’s as an apartment building, it was called Llew Elyn until the 1930’s. Hollier’s family has owned the hotel since 1958, and he has been running it for the past 15 years. He said no one really knows when or why it became The Allen Lee.
David Jones, who works at the hotel’s front desk, said there is a myth surrounding the building’s current name.
According to legend, Jones said, the original owner of the hotel had two housekeepers – one named Mrs. Allen and one named Mrs. Lee – and the owner combined the names for his hotel.
With so many hotels in the D.C. area, it is a wonder that The Allen Lee has survived so long, but its advantages set it apart. The low price and key location are the most obvious strengths.
“Our motto says we’re just an old-fashioned hotel with old- fashioned prices,” Hollier said.
The hotel offers rooms of various sizes: singles, doubles, triples and quads.
Prices range from $45 a night for a single room with a common bath to $98 a night for a quad with a private bath. Less expensive rooms share a bathroom down the hall, although private bathrooms are always an option.
The affordable pricing of The Allen Lee likens its clientele to that of hostels, which are common in Europe but have virtually disappeared throughout the United States.
The fascination of hostels lies within the opportunity to meet many new people. The Allen Lee holds true to that ideal, filling its lobby in the evenings with chatty guests.
The hotel draws international travelers as well as guests for extended periods of time looking for an inexpensive place to stay.
Hollier said many of the hotel’s guests are tourists back-packing through America.
Cambridge student Emma Roxanas and her theater group of 16 English students, the Cambridge American Stage Tour, lodged at the Allen Lee during the group’s three-day break between performances of “Romeo and Juliet.”
Roxanas said the group chose the Foggy Bottom hotel because of its inexpensive prices and its excellent location.
“It’s nice and convenient to the Lincoln Memorial,” Roxanas said. “The phones service here is also very good compared to other places we’ve stayed.”
Hollier said he expected many protesters of the World Bank and International Fund to stay at The Allen Lee. With the cancellation of meetings later this month, Hollier said his hotel lost a great deal of business.
“Whenever there are protests in D.C. we always do very well,” Hollier said.
Hollier said some residents of The Allen Lee have lived there for many years. One resident has lived in the hotel for more than three decades, Hollier said.
Ronald Eng lived at the Allen Lee for more than a month. He is in transit, between apartments. He said The Allen Lee is one of few affordable places in the area that caters to non-students.
“It is the best bargain on this side of 16th Street,” Eng said.
Eng, originally from New Jersey, has lived in the District for more than 25 years. Before living in the Allen Lee, he resided in Foggy Bottom’s Potomac Park.
“Its one of the few affordable places to live in D.C. where folks can hang on and keep things going,” Eng said.
Eng said he has met a few people during his stay at The Allen Lee.
“Its an opportunity to be pleasantly surprised,” Eng said.
Hollier said despite the hotel’s close vicinity to the GW campus, he gets very few customers from GW.
“Sometimes when students can’t find housing they stay here for a little bit,” Hollier said.
Most GW families tend to stay in the District’s more expensive hotels during family weekend and when visiting the school, Hollier said.
Safety is another issue that attracts people to The Allen Lee.
Hollier said he considers Foggy Bottom to be one of the safest neighborhoods in town. And people can easily access popular tourists sites, including national memorials.
While the door is locked at night, people can return at their convenience because someone will always be there waiting at the front desk, Hollier said.
Although the presence of a low-budget hotel within campus boundaries may seem odd, it is ideal for those who are traveling abroad. The Allen Lee honors the backpacker’s dream-a cheap stay in a prime location- right in GW’s backyard, surrounded by thousands of American students.