Why Marriott Stayed
An inside account of the hotel giant’s decision to relocate its headquarters to downtown Bethesda, rather than move away
How Marriott Became Marriott
The Marriott empire began modestly in Northwest D.C. Pooling resources with a partner, J. Willard Marriott opened a nine-stool A&W Root Beer stand at 3128 14th St. NW. It was May 20, 1927, the day Charles Lindbergh began his historic trans-Atlantic flight.
Marriott, who had passed through Washington, D.C., after completing a two-year Mormon mission in New England several years earlier, opened the business in the District and then returned to his native Utah to marry Alice Sheets. In his Model T Ford, the couple drove back here to tend to business.
Alice quickly saw a market for hot food to go with the soft drinks. Thus was born Hot Shoppes, the brand that would grow into a popular chain of restaurants that would serve Washingtonians and families traveling up and down the Mid-Atlantic region.
The company’s modest first hotel, the Twin Bridges Motor Hotel, named for the 14th Street and railroad bridges that cross the Potomac River, opened in 1957 in Arlington, Virginia, close to what is now Reagan National Airport. It closed in 1988. The Key Bridge Marriott, also in Arlington, opened in 1959. Debbie Marriott Harrison, now Marriott’s global officer and a board member, remembers shyly cutting the ribbon as a 2-year-old.
J. Willard Marriott moved into airline food service in 1937. Back then, there was a Hot Shoppes near the old Hoover Field (now Reagan National) and he noticed customers buying doughnuts and food to take on their flights. That gave him the idea to go into airline catering with Eddie Rickenbacker, the famed World War I ace and head of Eastern Airlines.
“My grandfather and dad [J. Willard Marriott Jr.] had big arguments over being a hotel or food company,” Harrison recalls. “My grandfather did not want to go into debt and opposed hotels.” But build and own them they did, at least initially. Eventually, the business evolved. “Now investors come to us, put all their money on the building; we earn all our money on franchise and management fees,” Harrison says.
The world’s largest hospitality company was enlarged by the September 2016 acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts. Today, more than 700,000 people work for Marriott International and its brands. The company has more than 6,500 properties across 30 brands in 127 countries and territories around the world. The publicly traded company strives for continuity—Arne Sorenson is only its third CEO in 90 years.