The Allen Lee: A Foggy Bottom holdout

A quaint building hugging the corner of 23rd and F streets, the Allen Lee hotel is one of the few holdouts in an area dominated by GW.

However, the University has tried to buy the building in the past and is still interested in the property.

“It’s been many years since we’ve heard from (GW), maybe seven,” said Dennis Hollier, the hotel’s general manager. “But they’ve always been interested.”

Hollier said the hotel’s owners, who were unavailable for comment, have refused on several occasions to sell to the University.

University officials, while acknowledging that GW has made attempts to buy the hotel, said GW has not made an offer since the mid-1990s.

“They know if they want to sell it they should come to us,” said Louis Katz, GW executive vice president and treasurer, adding, “We have not gone to them.”

He said the University would always be interested in buying the Allen Lee because it is on a block where GW already owns property, including several townhouses. Because the hotel is within campus boundaries, it would also help GW come into compliance with a city housing order requiring the University to house a majority of undergraduate students on campus.

If GW bought the Allen Lee it would bring an end to the more than 100 years the buildings has rented rooms, first as an apartment complex and now as a hotel. In the 1930s, the building’s name changed from the Llewelyn Apartments to the Allen Lee.

The five-story building features a brick facade cloaked in ghost-white paint, with brick squares surrounding the blue window frames. Its lone yellow neon sign spells out the hotel’s name.

“It’s sort of a Victorian architecture,” Hollier said. “I don’t really know what category you’d put it in.”

Inside, hallways of varying lengths zigzag through the building like a maze. Some hallways abruptly halt at dead ends, some end at communal bathrooms and others at large mirrors held in place by elaborately carved wooden frames.

Every room has its own quirks.

Room 203 has carpeting, a large bed, a small worn table, a beaten cabinet, mirrors of unusual shapes and a bathroom with a black-and-white tile floor. One of the room’s two closets is painted shut.

Room 204, with its walls partially covered with wood, appears smaller but has many of the same items packed into it, including a television. The bathroom in 204 has no shower or bathtub.

“The atmosphere makes it like a little European hotel,” said Jane Dover, a guest from Michigan. “Have you ever been in a European hotel? They have ordinary, old-fashioned rooms.”

The hotel’s tenants are a motley bunch – tourists, foreigners and people just looking for a place to crash for the night.

Ramon Medina, of Orange County, Calif., said he stayed at the hotel for more than a week.

“I’m just here to get some history and information about D.C. and to get away from work – pleasure purposes, really,” said Medina, a supervisor at a nonprofit organization.

“It’s a small hotel at a moderate price and it’s very convenient,” said John Peters, who has called the Allen Lee home for the past two years. “Most people stay here because of all the businesses, the location.”

“We have varying guests – a lot of European students and a lot of new people in town looking for a place and a lot of tourists,” said a front desk clerk who wished to remain anonymous.

In November 2002, a male guest committed suicide by jumping off the hotel’s roof onto the Virginia Avenue asphalt between 22nd and 23rd streets.

Business at the Allen Lee has been helped by the hotel’s relatively low prices – $58 per night for a single and $74 per night for a double. Hollier said roughly 80 percent of the hotel’s 85 rooms are filled most nights. Most District hotels reported occupancy rates between 70 and 80 percent for July and August, according to Washington Convention and Tourism Corporation statistics.

“For someone who stays at a Marriot this would be roughing it,” District resident James Bell said. “But it’s OK by me.”

– Katie Rooney contributed to this report.

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