Last month, in throes of frantic inaugural planning, Marriott Wardman Park's general manager, Ed Rudzinski, told us, "By January 17, it's over. All we’ll need to do is execute.” Last night, that's exactly what happened.
The Kentucky Bluegrass and the North Carolina State Society balls unfolded in tandem Monday night at Wardman Park. The first was a seated dinner for 1,250 people, and the second, a cocktail reception for 1,425. With two sold-out balls and a fully booked hotel, Wardman Park was packed to the gills.
When we arrived at 6 PM, the hotel was electric. Kentucky ball guests, clad in tuxedos and floor-length gowns, milled around the lobby and posed for photos before heading upstairs for a reception—in true Kentucky style—with six bourbon stations.
By 6:10, Rudzinski was already putting out his first fire of the evening: An Obama souvenir table set up near the Kentucky ball needed to be packed up and moved. "It's all about the client," Rudzinski said. "If they want us to change something, we do it. No questions."
Barack Obama’s inauguration will be Ferrell Cook’s first at the Marriott Wardman Park. As the hotel’s security director, he has a lot on his plate, from managing huge crowds to keeping celebrities, politicians, and hotel guests safe. But he’s not worried. “I’m totally ready for it,” he says. “I’m excited and looking forward to it.”
Cook has good reason. In 1996, he was working in Atlanta during the Olympics when the city was shattered by the bombing of Centennial Olympic Park on July 27. Nine years later, in August 2005, Cook landed a job at the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans. He had been there only 2½ weeks when Hurricane Katrina hit.
“My experience has taught me that you can never say, ‘That never happens here,’ ” he says. “You have to prepare as best as you can to deal with unforeseen situations.”
Planning for the inauguration isn’t easy, Cook says, because there are lots of moving parts involved. He works with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to train his team to identify explosives and explosive components. He coordinates with the Metropolitan Police Department to sync up security around the hotel. He trains with the fire department to give Marriott’s officers a refresher on how to extinguish fires. He runs drills with hotel employees to prepare them for emergency situations. He hires an outside security contractor to beef up manpower. And of course, he works closely with the Secret Service, perhaps the important—and most unpredictable—security detail in Washington.
Ed Rudzinski runs the show at the Marriott Wardman Park. As the hotel’s general manager, he oversees 1,000 employees, is the liaison with Marriott’s corporate offices, and schmoozes with high-rolling guests. If the hotel were a circus, he’d be the ringmaster.
A typical day for Rudzinski is anything but typical. “The only thing you can really count on is a fire truck or ambulance showing up at some point,” he says. The week before our interview, he was greeted twice by flashing lights at the hotel’s entrance.
During the inauguration, he says, everything is heightened: security, crowds, even staff. To meet the needs of the thousands who will come through the hotel, Rudzinski will hire at least 500 temporary employees—mostly banquet servers and bartenders—and bring in a private company to oversee security.
Horst Lummert is executive chef at the Marriott Wardman Park. He’s been in kitchens around the world for more than 40 years.
Lummert left Germany in 1967 after completing his apprenticeship, a requirement for German chefs. He went to Canada for two years before landing in Washington with a job at the Mayflower Hotel. He’s been with the Marriott company for 33 years and at Wardman Park since the Clinton administration.
Lummert’s right-hand man is Georg Feldschmied, the hotel’s executive sous chef. Feldschmied hails from Austria, where, after completing his culinary apprenticeship in 1990, he did a short stint in the military. From there, he bounced around hotel kitchens in Austria, Switzerland, Greece, Florida, and the Czech Republic for more than a decade. In the fall of 2001, he applied for a job at the Marriott Wardman Park, but the events of September 11 froze the hiring decision. The following March, Lummert called Feldschmied to see if he was still interested in the job; he began at Wardman Park a month later.
On a normal day, the pair are on the job for ten to 12 hours, spending most of their time planning menus and coordinating with the events staff. Less than 20 percent of the chefs’ time is spent actually cooking in the kitchen. They leave that to their staff of 78 cooks.
Wardman Park has six kitchens: two for the hotel restaurants, kitchens for cold and hot foods, a room-service kitchen, and a pastry kitchen. With 80 percent of the hotel dedicated to banquets, the staff usually executes more than one event at the same time. Smaller banquets—those with 100 to 150 people—can happen 30 at a time.
The Children’s Inaugural Ball, being held at the Historical Society of Washington, DC, on January 18, is a kid-oriented event from start to finish. It’ll feature live music, arts and crafts, interactive exhibits, play areas, games, a story-time stage, and more. Hosted by the Every Child Matters Education Fund and more than two dozen national children’s organizations, the open-house event will allow attendees to come and go as they please from noon to 5 PM. The best part: The event is free. (An invitation is required.) To request an invitation, click here.
MTV and ServiceNation, an organization that campaigns to increase support for expanding national service programs like the Peace Corps, have teamed up for the January 20 Be The Change Inaugural Ball, held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. Though few details have been released, expect lots of star power—the event will be broadcast on all MTV channels and Web sites. This teen-centric bash, which will play host to hundreds of young people, is by invitation-only. Attendees will be selected by the host organizations “based on their demonstrated volunteerism.”
1. Thou shalt not understaff the coat check. If you do, you’ll have some angry guests and furs will be flying.
“We have a coatroom,” says the Wardman Park’s general manager, Ed Rudzinski. “It ain’t going to be good enough.” He anticipates handling as many as 6,000 coats for each big event at the hotel during the inauguration.
The solution? In addition to recruiting extra workers, the Wardman Park will put up a mobile cloakroom outside the hotel in a tent, and it’ll funnel guests through it as they come up the hill from the Metro or from the parking areas. The key is to create flow, Rudzinski says, and to keep guests moving through the hotel to prevent a logjam and flaring tempers.
2. Thou shalt understand that when the president arrives, the Secret Service runs the show.
“The Secret Service controls the room that the president’s in,” Rudzinski says. It was a lesson he learned the hard way during one of President Bush’s Black Tie and Boots balls.
The event brought 15,000 people to the hotel, and they all wanted to see the president. Only 5,000 people could fit in the ballroom where the her would be. Once the room was at capacity, it was sealed off. No one, not even hotel staff, could come or go.
“The people standing in line were furious,” Rudzinski recalls. “But there was nothing we could do about it. It was first come, first served.”
“During the inauguration, you’ve got the eyes of the world looking at Washington,” says Wardman Park’s general manager Ed Rudzinski. He doesn’t take that responsibility lightly.
That’s why Rudzinski’s Woodley Park hotel recently completed a $100 million renovation. The upgrades and additions were taken on in anticipation of the thousands of people who will come through the hotel during the four days of inauguration madness.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of dispatches that Washingtonian.com will be publishing in the months leading up to the inauguration. We’ll provide an insider’s look at how high-profile inaugural events come together—from food and decorations to entertainment and security. Our reporting will be focused on the inaugural activities at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.
Inaugural balls have been part of the presidential rite of passage since George Washington. He danced two cotillions and a minuet at the first ball in New York City on May 7, 1789. James Madison celebrated the first official inaugural gala in Washington in 1809. John Quincy Adams, who attended, wasn’t impressed. “The crowd was excessive, the heat oppressive, and the entertainment bad,” he said.
A group of people are walking through the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. They’re here to scout the space for a blowout inaugural event. They clutch information packets outlining the hotel’s specs, including floor plans, parking, guest rooms, and outdoor event spaces. They have pencils, cameras, and cell phones in hand. Chris Otway is at the helm to answer their questions.
They’re standing in one of the executive suites, a guest room with living, dining, and meeting spaces.
“Do you know the square-footage of this room?” a man asks.
“About 600,” Otway replies.
“Are all the rooms the same size?” another chimes in.
“No, this is the smallest.”
“What about tissues?” says the first man. “I didn’t see any in the bathroom. We’ll need tissues.”
“I’ll check on that for you,” Otway replies as he jots something in his notebook.
This is a typical day for Otway. He’s the Wardman Park’s director of sales and catering. His job is to bag big-ticket events for the hotel, and that means being able to answer every question and assuage every concern a client might have—right down to tissues.