Watergate Complex from TR Bridge
Image by dbking
The Watergate complex is an office-apartment-hotel complex built in 1967 in northwest Washington, D.C., best known for being the site of burglaries that led to the Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Richard Nixon
The Watergate complex is a superblock bounded on the north by Virginia Avenue, on the east by New Hampshire Avenue, on the south by F Street, and on the west by the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway. It is in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood overlooking the Potomac River, adjacent to the Kennedy Center and the embassy of Saudi Arabia. The nearest Metro station is Foggy Bottom-GWU.
The Watergate complex was developed by the Italian firm Società Generale Immobiliare, which purchased the 10 acres which constitute the plot of land on the defunct Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in the early 1960s for 10 million US Dollars. Italian architect Luigi Moretti designed the six buildings on the site: a hotel, two office buildings, three apartment buildings and a retail center.
Individual buildings at the Watergate
The Watergate Hotel is located at 2650 Virginia Avenue NW. It has 250 guest rooms and 146 suites. In 2004, the hotel was purchased by a company planning to turn it into luxury co-ops.
The two Watergate Office Buildings are at 600 New Hampshire Avenue NW and 2600 Virginia Avenue NW.
In 1972, the Democratic National Committee had its headquarters on the sixth floor of the 11-story 2600 Virginia Avenue building. On May 28, 1972, a team of burglars working for Nixon’s re-election campaign put wiretaps and took photos in and near the DNC chairman’s office. The wiretaps were monitored from Room 723 of the Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge hotel across the street at 2601 Virginia Avenue NW. (The hotel is now owned by the George Washington University, although no longer used as a undergraduate dormitory.) During a second burglary on June 17, 1972, to replace a malfunctioning "bug" and collect more information, five burglars were arrested and the Watergate scandal began to unfold.
The Watergate Office Building was sold in 2005 by Trizec Properties to Bentley Forbes, a Los Angeles-based real estate investment firm run by Fred Wehba, for .5 million. The complex, consisting of the buildings at 2500, 2600, and 2650 Virginia Ave. NW and 600 and 700 New Hampshire Ave. NW, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 21, 2005.
The three Watergate Apartment buildings total some 600 residential units. Past occupants have included Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bob and Elizabeth Dole, Monica Lewinsky, Betty Currie, and Paul O’Neill. Current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice now lives in the Watergate.
There is a small (63,000 sq. ft. / 5900 m²) retail center which offers a Safeway supermarket in the basement level and several upscale shops and restaurants at street level.
Monica Lewinsky moves out of Watergate
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, October 14, 1998)
Monica Lewinsky is moving out of her Watergate residence and apologizing to neighbors for any trouble her newfound media attention may have caused them.
Lewinsky placed a printed note under the doors of fellow residents of the Watergate South this week informing them of her departure.
The location of her new residence, which has not been confirmed, is believed to be away from the Washington area.
The posh downtown condominium complex has several other well-known tenants, including former Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole and his wife.
"As I depart 700 New Hampshire, I wanted to apologize for the inconveniences of the past nine months. To those of you who have passed along your kind words, I greatly appreciated your support during this difficult time; and I thank you. I hope you all know how very sorry I am that so much attention was brought to the building," she wrote.
Lewinsky signed the notes "Monica" by hand, her spokeswoman Judy Smith said.
Watergate: The name that branded more than a building
Washington Business Journal –
June 14, 2002
by Mike Livingston Contributing Writer
Some buildings in Washington earn a place in history by housing future presidents, some by reflecting influential architects and the growth of a world capital, and some just by standing there as governments, industries, even centuries come and go.
The mixed-use complex next to the old canal "water gate" at the mouth of Rock Creek owes its place in history to a little piece of masking tape that sealed, 30 years ago this month, the lock on a door and the fate of a president.
It was Suite 600 of the Watergate Hotel that burglars on the White House payroll entered around 2 a.m. June 17, 1972, to gather information about President Nixon’s opponents. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) had leased the suite.
The ensuing scandal led to the imprisonment of top West Wingers and the only presidential resignation — and it made the name "Watergate" synonymous with political scandal and investigative journalism.
Despite what "Watergate" has come to mean in the popular mind, it remains for many others what its developers intended it to be: a prestigious address for offices, shops, restaurants, residents and hotel guests.
The five curving towers of "Watergate Towne" were the city’s first major international real estate development — the vision of Hungarian-born developer Nicholas Salgo and his Italian firm, Societa Generale Immobiliare (SGI), based in Rome and owned in part by the Vatican.
The Italian Count di Carpegna was a project architect on SGI’s staff, and the Countess de Rochefort was a sales representative for the Watergate East apartment cooperative. (The countess once commissioned Avignon Frères, the now-defunct French bakery in Adams Morgan, to make a 50-pound cake with 13 layers in the likeness of the 13-story building.)
SGI bought the 10-acre site from Washington Gas for million, thinking it would soon be served by a freeway. The Washington Star, whose archives provided much of the information for this article, noted in 1962 the plans called for "curvilinear buildings designed to conform with the curving Inner Loop Expressway at this point."
When models of the futuristic high-rises were unveiled by 1961, critics and zoning commissioners said the complex would ruin the waterfront and overshadow the performing arts center nearby, which was then on the drawing boards and would later be named after President Kennedy. The National Capital Planning Commission, according to a 1961 report in the Star, questioned "whether the site should be developed at all."
The Star thought so. A May 1962 editorial stated: "It is true that the so-called `curvilinear’ design is at variance with most commercial architecture in Washington. But in our opinion the result, which places a premium on public open space and garden-like surroundings, and which proposes a quality of housing that would rank with the finest in the city, would be a distinct asset."
Later that month, the White House urged the developer to accept a 90-foot height limit instead of the planned 130 feet.
Salgo and SGI’s chief architect, Gabor Acs, flew to New York City with professor Luigi Moretti of the University of Rome to defend their designs in a special meeting with the federal Commission of Fine Arts, whose approval is required for any construction in the "Monumental Core." In the end, SGI was allowed to build 25 percent of the complex to 13 stories.
Moretti, who had designed the Montreal Stock Exchange and Rome’s Olympic Village for the 1960 Games, served as a consulting architect. The Washington architecture firm of Corning, Moore, Elmore & Fisher also worked with the SGI staff architects. The builder was Magazine Bros. Construction.
‘White House West’
Work began in August 1963 with the groundbreaking for the headquarters of Riverview Realty, the leasing agent for the 200,000 square feet of office space planned in the complex.
The first tower, Watergate East, was believed to be the first major construction job to make significant use of computers. A forerunner of modern computer-aided drafting (CAD) technology was employed in plans for 8,000 square feet of irregular windows and 2,200 irregular wall panels.
In 1964, Jim Roberts of Magazine Bros. told the Star: "We had to face the fact that there are no continuous straight lines anywhere — horizontally on the floors or vertically on the facade. Not only were there many different curves on every floor, but no two floors had a facade exactly alike."
Watergate East was dedicated in October 1965.
Earlier that year, the Star told future owners of tower’s 238 co-ops that the complex "will feature an elaborate electronic security system" including closed-circuit televisions, two-way radios and a 24-hour security staff. "What all of this means," the paper noted, "is that intruders will have difficulty getting onto the grounds undetected."
Peoples Drug (now CVS) and Safeway opened stores in the courtyard in 1965 that are still there today, along with a bakery, liquor store and other courtyard shops.
Watergate West, the second residential building, was started in June 1967 and completed within two years.
Landscape architect Boris Timchenko planted flowering trees and filled 150 planters. Tiers of fountains in the courtyard provide the sound of waterfalls. Townhouse-style units line the first two floors; top-floor units feature private rooftop terraces and fireplaces.
In June 1969, the Star reported the co-ops were especially popular with high-ranking members of the new administration: "Watergate’s two completed apartment buildings have become widely known as a magnet that pulls many Nixon aides home."
With a quarter of the Cabinet — Attorney General John Mitchell, Commerce Secretary Maurice Stans and Transportation Secretary John Volpe — living at Watergate, along with dozens of White House staffers including presidential secretary Rose Mary Woods, the complex was nicknamed "Administration Arms" and "White House West."
Showcase for a Scandal
The hotel opened in 1967 and featured an upscale restaurant, the Roman Terrace. The DNC and other office tenants leased space in the hotel as early as April 1967.
The Watergate 600 office tower, specially zoned for nonprofit and professional occupancy, signed its first tenant, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in February 1971, and its first "major" tenant soon afterward: the Manpower Evaluation & Development Institute, which leased the whole eighth floor.
In October 1972, a strip of fashion boutiques and jewelers opened under the name Les Champs. The 13,000 square feet of retail drew tenants such as Gucci, Yves St. Laurent and, according to the Star, "the only boutique in this country which exclusively features Soviet-made goods."
Manager Henry Winston warned Les Champs retailers not to exploit the scandal that had erupted from the DNC break-in; however, by the fall of 1973, the shops drew heavy traffic from curious tourists and scandal buffs. Winston asked five shops to leave within their first year, he told the paper, because "the appearance and type of their merchandise was not up to standards or their volume was too low, and none of them seemed improvable."
Other break-ins, other scandals
The first Watergate break-in was a residential burglary, in 1969, in which jewelry and a papal medal were stolen from an apartment. Ironically, the victim was Woods, the Nixon secretary who would later be accused of erasing 18 and a half minutes of incriminating evidence from one of the president’s secret tapes.
In 1973, burglars stole 0 from an office suite leased by the Italian Embassy.
And in 1975, perhaps the nation’s most influential jurist below the Supreme Court — Chief Judge David L. Bazelon of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — and his wife returned from Christmas vacation to find ,000 worth of jewelry missing from their apartment.
For many residents, the real Watergate scandal was the allegedly shoddy construction of the 143-unit Watergate West apartment building. In 1972, residents sued SGI for .5 million, citing water damage in 40 percent of the units, plumbing problems in 22 percent, malfunctioning kitchen appliances in 45 percent, and inadequate air conditioning.
SGI filed a counterclaim of million for "malicious embarrassment" and, after five years of litigation, paid 0,000 in a settlement.
Toward the end of the century, Watergate showed up again in stories about a scandal-ridden presidency: It was the home of Clinton White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
‘A delicious irony’
The Watergate’s original developer, Salgo, partnered with Chicago-based Continental Illinois Properties to buy SGI’s stake for million in 1977. Two years later, the company sold its interest to subsidiaries of the British Coal Board Pension Fund; Salgo kept his own shares until 1986 and then sold to the coal board.
In what The Washington Post called "a delicious irony for the father of the Watergate," in 1989 the Bush administration tapped Salgo, a former diplomat, for a task force to dispose of the U.S. embassy in Moscow because it was infested with electronic bugs.
Several real estate transfers in recent years have resulted in new, multiple owners of the buildings in the Watergate complex. The hotel now bears a Swissotel flag.
The apartments still attract VIP residents, notably Bob and Elizabeth Dole and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
The Watergate’s most historically significant office tenant, however, moved out long ago. The DNC, within weeks after the break-in, transferred the bulk of its staff and files to George McGovern’s presidential campaign headquarters at 19th and K streets NW. The committee kept a minimal presence in the infamous suite — which was allegedly bugged again four months later — until its lease expired in January 1973. The 16,000 square feet of history were leased to the National Academy of Sciences in August 1974.
Mike Livingston is a Washington-based freelance writer.