The Whitelaw Hotel, currently a subsidized apartment complex operated by Manna, Inc., was built in 1919 as an apartment hotel, a popular early 20th-century housing arrangement. A first-class operation, the Whitelaw was named for the mother of its builder, entrepreneur John Whitelaw Lewis. Architect Isaiah T. Hatton, designer of the Southern Aid Society Building at Seventh and T streets, NW, designed the Whitelaw in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. African Americans have been in the hotel business at least since the mid-nineteenth century.
The Whitelaw served well-known entertainers who were performing on or near U Street as well as visitors drawn to Washington for meetings of national black organizations, all of whom were unable to rent rooms in the city's luxury hotels because of discrimination. For new migrants, especially single ones, the Whitelaw Hotel was a more posh alternative to area rooming houses. As a hotel, the Whitelaw offered more services than the apartment buildings that opened in and near downtown during the same period. With its generous public spaces, the Whitelaw became an important social center, hosting parties and annual balls.
John Whitelaw Lewis, a promoter of black solidarity and economic self-sufficiency, had founded the Industrial Savings Bank in 1913, housed in the Laborer's Building and Loan Association building (11th and U streets, NW).
The Whitelaw deteriorated badly as the end of legal segregation in public accommodations opened up many more options for African Americans. The drug culture of the 1960s furthered its decline. Finally in 1977 the DC Government cited the owners for voluminous building code violations, and the hotel was closed. In 1991 Manna, Inc., acquired the property and began its restoration. The building re-opened in 1992 as a private apartment building. It was listed that year on the DC Inventory of Historic Sites, and a year later on the National Register of Historic Places.