The City Magazine Since 1975

The peninsula’s first luxury hotel attracted famous guests

The peninsula’s first luxury hotel attracted famous guests
September 2020

JFK had a fling with a suspected spy there

Docked in the Charleston Harbor at the outpour of the Ashley River, the Frances III and two sailboats wait for passengers at the footsteps of the Fort Sumter Hotel in 1936. The seven-story hotel made its debut in 1923 as Charleston’s first luxury lodging as well as the tallest building on the peninsula. Situated along King Street and adjacent to the historic White Point Garden, the destination drew many prominent patrons. In early 1942, then Naval intelligence officer John F. Kennedy engaged in a rendezvous with former Miss Denmark, journalist, and alleged German spy (she wasn’t) Inga Arvad, staying with her at the hotel for three nights in what became known as the “Inga-Binga Affair.” Later that year, the Sixth Naval District moved its headquarters into the building. After naval operations moved out four years later, the structure was renovated and resumed welcoming travelers. In 1947, Tennessee Williams visited and met with producer Irene Selznick, handwriting scenes of his acclaimed play A Streetcar Named Desire upon hotel stationery. The property was sold for $850,000 in 1973, and its 225 guest rooms were converted into 67 condominiums. The beautiful harbor views and history that once enticed visitors still charm permanent residents.