From September 23-25, 2022, the Washington Hilton in Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C., will house the most exciting trivia event of the year: SporcleCon 2022! Here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the building that will accommodate this inaugural event.
The hotel was built on the former Oak Lawn estate, which was first established as Widow’s Mite as early as 1660. James Langworth of Charles County, Maryland, was the first known owner of the land on which the Washington Hilton currently sits.
It was primarily undeveloped until around 1820 when an estate house was built on the land. The site expanded in the 1870s into a four-story building. At this time, the ground was renamed Oak Lawn due to a centuries-old oak tree near the house.
In the 1920s, it became the planned site of a sizable Masonic temple complex, but the 1929 stock market crash thwarted those plans. In the 1940s, Congress intended to buy the land and convert it into a memorial for Union soldiers of the Civil War. However, locals criticized the plan, as Oak Lawn was the last remaining wooded area in downtown Washington. Additionally, District officials were concerned about the lack of tax revenue if the property became public.
Finally, in the 1960s, design work began on the building that would later become the Washington Hilton. The site was under construction from 1962 to 1965. Due to the district’s strict height requirements, the area required extensive excavation to house the 12-story hotel. Over half of the hotel was built underground to stay under the 130-foot height limit that Washington, D.C., has had in place since 1910.
When the Washington Hilton opened in 1965, it had the largest ballroom in the city that did not have pillars blocking floor space, at 36,000 square feet. That’s greater than the area of more than 7.5 NBA basketball courts!
Its unique numeral 3-shaped design avoids uninteresting long hallway views. It also increases the number of rooms with a southern-facing window, maximizing light exposure to the most significant number of rooms.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the hotel was used as a concert venue by several notable artists, including The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, and Count Basie. More recently, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Blondie, Third Eye Blind, Neon Trees, and Bowling for Soup have also performed.
The hotel is perhaps best known as the site of John Hinckley’s attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981. This event occurred outside an exclusive VIP entrance that was internally named the Presidential Entrance. The door he used has since been closed. The construction of this entrance resulted from a 1940s security incident in which Franklin Roosevelt had to leave the Capital Hilton through the kitchen. They wanted to avoid a potential future repeat of that scenario, which was believed to have been beneath the dignity of the President of the United States.
The hotel was temporarily renamed the Hilton Washington in 1998, but after an extensive renovation that finished in 2010, it became known again as the Washington Hilton.
Since the late 1980s, the hotel has hosted the annual First Ladies Luncheon, which regularly sees around 1,500 attendees.
The National Prayer Breakfast, which is hosted by members of Congress, is also held annually at the Washington Hilton. Every U.S. president since Dwight Eisenhower has participated in the event, which is usually held on the first Thursday in February. Over 3,000 people attend each year, and the event has inspired other countries, including Australia and the United Kingdom, to host their own versions.
The hotel also hosts the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, which is traditionally held on the last Saturday in April. In 1924, Calvin Coolidge became the first of sixteen U.S. presidents to attend at least one dinner during their term. For the past 40 years, most speakers have been comedians, giving the dinner a lighter tone than many political events in the District. In 2008, George W. Bush conducted the Marine Corps Band at the Dinner. In 2016, during his speech, Barack Obama had his infamous “Obama out” mic drop moment.