The Georgetown Inn at 50 Celebrates Its History, Plans Renovation

Most famous general manager of the Georgetown Inn, Collins Bird
Most famous general manager of the Georgetown Inn, Collins Bird

Fifty years after the Georgetown Inn opened to the public, its new owner is planning a multi-year renovation of the 96-room property, located at 1310 Wisconsin Ave., N.W. The hotel will throw a birthday party for itself and friends on June 6. Nayan Patel of Your DC Hotels purchased the hotel in November 2011. The upcoming renovation will be welcome news to those who remember the glory days of the Four Georges restaurant and piano bar, where pianist Mel Clement, bassist Louis Saverino and Julian Allman held forth, often accompanied by visiting artists from the Kennedy Center or National Theatre. Allman played his signature "Alley Cat" on a Stradivarius stolen from Carnegie Hall. That discovery made the front page of The New York Times when his widow followed his instructions to inspect the violin case after his demise and found the evidence.

Sheldon Magazine, president of American Mortgage Investment Company, built the Georgetown Inn, which opened May 20, 1962. Welcoming the first guest Peter Caruso, vice president and general manager Collins Bird threw the key across the driveway manned by “Tex” Aldridge in full livery and said the doors would not be locked again. After Collins retired in the early 1980s, the doors were abruptly locked during a peremptory shutdown in 1991 with Tex still at the helm. But—back to better days. In 1968, a young Herb Miller brokered the sale to Collins Bird and several partners. The hotel offered unique luxury for its day. A Washington Dossier magazine article acclaimed, “After Blair House, the Georgetown Inn on Wisconsin Avenue is probably D.C.’s spiffiest place to go for bed and board.” The hotel was later lauded by Fortune magazine as “A Way to Escape the Washington Stockade.”

A third generation hotelier, Collins Bird intended to return to his job a general manager of three hotels in Georgia after the Georgetown Inn opened but instead stayed on for 30 years and became synonymous with the property that welcomed many notables, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Charles and Ann Morrow Lindberg, Marlon Brando, Robert Mitchum, many Kennedys and the cast of the film, "The Exorcist."

The Inn was the Washington base of the original Mercury astronauts who became personal friends. Collins had a tailor on call to add new honors to the astronauts’ uniforms, as they obligingly signed photo after photo of their exploits. It was a sad occasion when friends gathered at the Inn for an Irish wake honoring astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, who were killed in a fire during a prelaunch test of Apollo 1 in 1967. Another frequent guest was Hubert Humphrey, who framed an enormous key from the “frozen Chosun” hotel in South Korea for “his favorite innkeeper.” Once again, Collins made certain that the former vice president’s family was pampered when they arrived for Humphrey's funeral. The banquet room was filled with treats for all ages. In a gentler era, the Secret Service was pleased when Humphrey visited the hotel because the exits could be easily guarded. At the height of the Dallas Cowboys and Redskins rivalry, the Inn hosted then Cowboys owner Clint Murchison and his entourage. There was always a lavish party in Potomac with an unending fleet of limousines ferrying guests from the hotel and back. Collins held a pre-game brunch replete with a bus and police escort to RFK Stadium. One year, the bus waited for a late-arriving Elizabeth Taylor.

The first time the Four Georges closed for a private party was to celebrate Playboy magazine’s “The Girls of Washington.” David Chan took a number of the photos upstairs at the Inn. Party guests included the then-infamous Fanne Foxe, who had jumped out of the car of Rep. Wilbur Mills (D-Ark.) for a dip in the Tidal Basin, and Elizabeth Ray, who famously did not take dictation from Rep. Wayne Hays (D-Ohio).

Harry “Doc” Dalinsky was a treasured fixture at his Georgetown Pharmacy at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and O Street, half a block from the hotel. He was a character, a cigar connoisseur and a confidant. The drugstore was a favored hangout of Ben Bradlee, Art Buchwald, David Brinkley and Herb Block. Collins started sending bagels and coffee to the pharmacy as people fetched their Sunday newspapers. A New York Times article on Doc’s Sunday brunch brought an overflow crowd to the consternation of the regulars.

For all its glamour quotient, the Inn was foremost favored by Georgetowners who could find a civilized haven with good food, drink and music. When you heard, “Let’s go to the Inn,” you knew it would be fun and you would see familiar faces, both locally and perhaps internationally known. The Georgetowner often wrote about the Georgetown Inn and Collins. A sizable portion of the September, 8, 1977, issue was devoted to the lead story by Suzie Gookin, headlined “Collins Bird to Marry.” I was that lucky person. We had 23 wonderful years together. Collins had been quoted as saying that his previous two marriages had ended in divorce with both ex-wives citing his hotel as “the other woman.” The third time must have been a charm, unless you count the hotel, making me the fourth wife.

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May 31, 2012 at 11:05 AM Morgan Dodd

Mary, You did a superb job of summing up so many of the great highlights from the most colorful days of the Georgetown Inn under Collins Bird's leadership. I had the privilege of serving as Evening Manager at the Front Desk from December 1974-December 1976. One of the best things about working there was the marvelous cast of characters that walked past that front desk. Working there was like being part of Collins Bird's extended family. I remember checking Andy Warhol and his entourage in, among others. It was also a popular place for parents of students from Georgetown University, Mount Vernon Junior College and Madeira School.The annual arrival of the regents of the DAR for their annual convention. Stylish New York and European fashion designers and retail executives in town for trunk shows or special events. I remember working the night of July 4, 1976 when the celebration America's Bicentennial took over Wisconsin and M Streets. The extravagant champagne Sunday brunch at the Four Georges that attracted lots of neighborhood regulars. But working at the front desk was the best because whenever Mel and Lou were playing in the cocktail lounge, it was like working at a never-ending cocktail party every night of the week!

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Jun 5, 2012 at 3:33 PM PATTI BIRD WOOD

Mary, Thank you for keeping The Georgetown Inn's best memories alive. As you know my dad your husband Collins Bird was a gentlemen and the best Hotelier around. I certainly was spoiled with the finer things in life,what kid - teenager wouldn't love to be driven around in a Limousin !! I always dreamed of one day running the Inn, who knows maybe the last act I will be back.

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Jun 20, 2012 at 3:55 PM BILL HARRIS

I HAVE A BRASS KEY BOB I WOULD GUESS IS FROM THE ORIGIONAL OPENINGOF THE GEORGETOWN INN. IT IS 2 1/2 INCHES LONG BY 1 1/2 WIDE. HEAVY BRASS WITH A RELIEF IF I THINK KING GEORGE.
ON THE BACK IT SAYS DROP IN ANY MAIL BOX. 1310 WISCONSIN AVW N.W. WASH D.C WITH NO ZIP CODE
IF ANY ONE HAS MORE INFORMATION ON THIS
PLEAS EMAIL ME.
THANK YOU,BILL HARRIS

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Aug 5, 2012 at 8:53 AM Pete Hyland

I worked for Collins Bird at the Inn for only a little over a year beginning in 1970. I was the night auditor working the front desk from 11 pm until 7 am. Collins was always in the cocktail lounge often playing a cello with Julian Altman playing the infamous stolen Stradivarius violin. He was the consummate hotel man. I remember he told me once "the customer is always right--if he is a right customer". It was quite an experience working there--I had Frank Sinatra once give me the finger, Warren Beatty threaten my job, met all the astronauts, met Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist who got me a part as an extra in the movie. It was a wild ride. Sorry to hear of his passing.

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Oct 23, 2013 at 2:00 AM Lynda Bird Wright

Collins Bird is my dad. We moved from
Atlanta when we were children. We lived
at the Inn and attended Immaculate
Conception Catholic girls school across the
Street from Georgetown University. I loved
living at the Georgetown Inn and all the
wonderful people we met during those
early years. It was quite exciting to be
introduced to Robert Stack, Robert Mitchum
and almost all of the astronauts. But the
employees at the Inn were our friends.
They looked out for us , got after us if we
got out of line (elevator races were a dailey
activity) and trained us when we
were old enough to work in different
departments of the Inn. Dad had three
daughters and we still miss him very much.
I forgot to mention the secret service
contacting my dad concerning my long distance
phone bill inadvertently getting into the
outgoing mail and making it's way to the White
House. The question "why is someone
Impersonating President Johnson's
daughter and charging a phone bill to
her name". Since my dad took care of the situation it was quite exciting!

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Dec 17, 2013 at 3:10 PM 推薦 スクエアトゥ 注目

Greetings! Very useful advice in this particular post! It's the little changes that make the
greatest changes. Many thanks for sharing!

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Feb 11, 2014 at 9:16 AM Susan Nicholas

I just read about Collins being gone. I have many great memories of him and eating and being serenaded by Julian in the Four George's restaurant back in the sixties. I thought it was so great when we would get to meet celebs who stayed at the Inn. I was friends with his daughters Martha & Linda and later on he took me into his home. The memories I have of going to see The Redskins play and riding in Limos are the best. He had the best parties ever and once for Christmas he bought me a set of drums. It was always fun living with him and his daughters on Queen Anne's La. He was quite a guy.

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