- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2000

''Wartime [World War II] was its heyday," social scribe Garnett Stackelberg said at Thursday's fancy reception to celebrate the Mayflower Hotel's 75th anniversary. "It was the gathering place. They had a headwaiter who knew everybody. . . . You'd find people from London, from China, from the CIA. And the women wore hats and veils."

Its cafe now the Cafe Promenade in the very grand 10th-of-a-mile-long main hall was known then as "the snake pit," she recalls, because it was so crowded and full of buzz.

In the distant past, visiting politicians and celebrities would go straight from Union Station to the Mayflower and know they would run into whoever was important in town. The stately edifice on Connecticut Avenue has been a site for nearly every presidential inaugural ball and a host of other sparkling events. A face lift or two ago, the hotel boasted 1,057 rooms, all furnished differently.

"My father was stationed here in 1926-27 when he was a colonel in the U.S. Army. My mother and grandmother used to bring me and my sister for tea," said social doyenne Maggie Wimsatt, looking appreciatively around the intimately scaled ballroom filled for the occasion with elegant buffet tables and the Sidney Sideman orchestra. Mr. Sideman's father was the orchestra leader on the Mayflower's opening night, Feb. 18, 1925.

"Look how many haven't dressed," Mrs. Wimsatt observed with a disapproving glance at the crowd, more than a few of whom had blithely ignored a "black tie" request on the invitation.

But some, such as Jan Johnson, an employee of Continental Jewels across the street, had gone to the other extreme. She had brought her strapless pink taffeta gown, with a sweeping hem and stole, to work with her so she could be properly attired.

Alas, celebrity guests reminiscent of the hotel's past glory had departed the scene earlier that day, with Hollywood's Charlton Heston greeting Nashville's Dolly Parton in passing. Local eminences present at the party included City Council member Carol Schwartz, Rep. James P. Moran and Sen. Tom Harkin.

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