Rooms For Rent

A Downtown Hotel? Hardly A New Idea

By Guy Fletcher | Posted on 04.11.16 – Feature, Frederick Scene, History

As the debate raged in recent months over a new hotel in Downtown Frederick, many supporters of the project viewed the proposed Marriott on Carroll Creek as a new way to capture dollars from business conferences or tourists taking advantage of local dining and cultural attractions.

But, in reality, a Downtown hotel is nothing new.

Public houses and taverns in the City of Frederick date back to Colonial times and it wasn’t long after the birth of the country when larger inns and hotels started serving a growing lodging demand from travelers passing through the area.

One of the earliest popular destinations in the city, though not quite Downtown, was the Old Stone Tavern, located at what is today the intersection of West Patrick and Jefferson streets. Built around 1800, the tavern was a haven for such famous men as Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson and Daniel Webster when they traveled on the new National Pike.

Starting in the early 19th century, the third block of North Market Street was the site of a series of lodging establishments, including Derr’s Hotel and the Groff House. By the turn of the 20th century, the location had become the Arlington Hotel, before being restored and renamed the Hotel Frederick in the 1920s.

The building operated under the Hotel Frederick name for many years and became known as the home of Polly’s Dinette, originally called The Canteen, a popular stop for hungry locals and travelers. The building was sold to the city in 1972 and razed. Today, the property is the parking lot of the former Carmack-Jay’s grocery store and is the site of a farmer’s market in the summer months.

But if Frederick ever had a “hotel district,” it would have been the first block of West Patrick Street, facing what is today the Weinberg Center for the Arts, where the large City Hotel and smaller Buffalo Hotel next door greeted 19th-century guests to the city.

In addition to lodging the famous, including Marquis de Lafayette during a visit to the city in 1824, the City Hotel was also popular with local farmers and merchants, who made it the place to conduct business or to relax over dinner or join friends for a drink or a game of billiards. The hotel was later renamed the New City

Hotel and was owned by Louis Otte, a German immigrant known for the fine meals he prepared his guests.

Most of the structures used for the Buffalo and New City hotels were torn down in the early part of the 20th century, clearing the way for construction of the grand dame of Downtown Frederick, the Francis Scott Key Hotel. Opening in 1923, the six-story, 205-room building at the corner of West Patrick and North Court streets had a price tag of $1 million, financed by local citizens who purchased shares in the hotel.

Built by the John S. Hershey Company, the design of the FSK Hotel incorporated brick with white stone trim and an elegant lobby appointed with Tennessee marble. Stylish guest rooms were furnished with mahogany furniture and the hotel boasted five separate dining rooms.

The FSK hosted many notable guests and visitors over the years, perhaps the most notable being U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy, who had lunch at the hotel on May 13, 1960, during his presidential campaign. The future president was greeted at the hotel by a local photographer coincidentally named Jack Kennedy, who thought it would be interesting to have a picture of the two Jack Kennedys together. The local Jack Kennedy asked newspaperman John Ashbury to take the photograph. “The local Jack Kennedy then went through a door into another room [of the hotel] and a few minutes later came back through that same door with JFK. I snapped the picture and chatted with JFK and Jack Kennedy for a few minutes. Then JFK was gone through that door again.”

When the photograph was developed, it was discovered that Frederick’s Jack Kennedy had his left jacket lapel turned up, a wardrobe malfunction that apparently took place when he removed the camera from around his neck to hand to Ashbury. The photographer, who passed away in 1999, rarely missed an opportunity over the years to rib the novice photographer for failing to notice the out-of-place lapel before clicking the shutter. Ashbury says, “I always told him that I didn’t say anything about [the lapel] being turned up because people looking at the picture needed something to tell the two Jack Kennedys apart.”

In addition to attracting visitors to the city, The FSK Hotel became a hub of Downtown life as the gathering place for many civic groups, meetings and banquets. Its ballroom hosted many dances, cotillions, debutante balls and wedding receptions. And even if you weren’t at the hotel, its rooftop sign, which was lighted at night, was visible for many blocks away.

In 1965, Loyola Federal Savings and Loan purchased the first floor of the FSK and converted the main dining room into a bank branch. Loyola commissioned local artist R. McGill Mackall to paint a mural for the lobby, a tableau of Francis Scott Key witnessing the 1814 bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore that inspired the Frederick lawyer to pen the poem that would become The Star-Spangled Banner.

Unfortunately, changing times and tastes led to the demise of the FSK Hotel. On Sept. 3, 1975, Homewood Retirement Centers of Williamsport purchased the property for $360,000 to be used as an elder-care home. Today, the building, whose exterior looks much the way it did when it opened nearly a century ago, is home to luxury apartments, with traces of its grand hotel past still visible, including the marble in the lobby and Mackall’s mural.