Marriott International has moved into its new building in Bethesda, Maryland


David Marriott was 15 when he got his first job: washing dishes at a hotel near the ring road in Bethesda. It was in 1988. His brother Etienne happened to be the general manager there.

“He made sure I was on time,” David said. “He steered a tight ship.”

Now it’s David who helps keep the ship watertight – shiny, squeak-free and steaming forward – as chairman of the board of Marriott International. In the 1980s, the hotel he worked at was known as the Pooks Hill Marriott. Today it’s called the Bethesda Marriott, which is not to be confused with the company’s new hotel, the Marriott Bethesda Downtown at Marriott’s headquarters, which, as its long name suggests, sits across from the Marriott’s new headquarters.

That’s a lot of “Marriott”, but many Marriotts have been involved in the company’s success. There is David Marriott himself. There is his father, Bill Marriott Jr. And there’s Bill Jr.’s father, J. Willard (Bill) Marriott, who in 1927 opened a root beer stand on 14th Street NW. This space was so cramped – eight feet – that they had to fit the necessary soda-making equipment inside.

On Monday morning, the ribbon was cut at Marriott’s new headquarters at 7750 Wisconsin Ave. at Bethesda. At 785,000 square feet, it’s quite large. Its 21 floors – well, 20; there’s no 13th floor – encompass workspaces, daycare, fitness center, test kitchen, and innovation and design lab.

But what David wanted to show me first was just off the hall: the Cabinet of Curiosities. It’s a wall adorned with relics of the company’s history, from restaurant menus to pie pans, from “Do Not Disturb” hangtags to a bicycle with a sign on the saddle: “Follow me.”

“It comes from our first hotel, the Twin Bridges Marriott,” David said.

This motor hotel opened near the Pentagon in Arlington in 1957. Once guests were checked in, they got into their cars and followed a bicycle hunter to find their room.

The Marriotts came from Utah. How did they end up in Washington?

David said his grandfather had come to New England to serve his two-year mission with the Latter-day Saints. During this time, he traveled to Washington and thought it had two advantages: the plenitude of government employees ensured a clientele. And in the summer it was hot and humid. Who wouldn’t want ice cold root beer?

And so he opened this root beer stand. By the time Bill Sr. opened his second location, in Ninth and G NW, he had married Alice leaves. He had also realized: during a winter in Washington, ice-cold root beer might not sell.

What they needed was food. Alice’s fluency with the language – she had studied Spanish in college – allowed her to go to the Mexican embassy for recipes for tamales and chili. The food was spicy and served hot, inspiring the new name of their restaurant: the Hot Shoppe. The chain exploded.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a tamale at a Hot Shoppes, but like many Washingtonians, I’ve had my fair share of Teen Twist ham sandwiches and Might Mo burgers. There’s no Hot Shoppes anymore – the last one closed, in Marlow Heights, in 1999 – but they’re resurrected in the name of the new building’s staff cafeteria, which is called the Hot Shoppe. The Mighty Mo will also occasionally be on the menu, which means if you want a culinary blast from the past, you’ll have to hire Marriott.

If Marriott had only done restaurants, it probably wouldn’t have needed the new building, which can accommodate 2,800 employees and replaces the company’s old headquarters near the Westfield Montgomery mall. After serving the airlines, the company moved into accommodation. They have 8,100 hotels under 30 brands, from Aloft to Ritz-Carlton. The new building includes a laboratory where the layout of the rooms can be simulated and modified. Then they will be built in the new Marriott hotel in a plaza to see what customers think.

The views are superb from the top of the new glazed headquarters, designed by the firm of Gensler. David pointed to Sugarloaf Mountain in the distance. We were standing near a notch in the building. Twenty floors down was the reason for the gash: the Tastee Diner building, whose owner had refused to sell.

“When my parents were away, the woman watching over me would take me there,” he said.

“She loved Tastee Diner,” David said.

It may seem like our region doesn’t make anything – no factories, no factories – but it did produce Marriott International. And that produced all of these Marriotts, which seem to retain a sense of corporate history.

David’s family had a dog named Mighty MB. It was a name they thought they should give him, he said. After all, their next door neighbors – the McDonalds – had a dog named Big Mac.


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