The Watergate complex in Washington, D.C.
|Architect||Luigi Moretti, consulting architect;
Milton Fischer, associate architect;
Boris Timchenko, landscape architect
|Architectural style||Modern Movement|
|NRHP Reference #||05000540|
|Added to NRHP||October 12, 2005|
The Watergate complex is a group of five buildings next to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, D.C. in the United States. The 10-acre (40,000 m2) site contains an office building, three apartment buildings, and a hotel-office building. Construction was delayed for several months while the developer, government officials, and others debated the appropriateness of the complex's architectural style and height. Construction began in August 1963, and, after additional controversy over the height and siting of the fifth building, was completed in January 1971. Considered one of Washington's most desirable living spaces, the Watergate has been popular with members of Congress and political appointees in the executive branch since it opened. The complex has been sold several times since the 1980s. In the 1990s it was split up and its component buildings and parts of buildings were sold to various owners.
In 1972, the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, then located on the sixth floor of the Watergate Hotel and Office Building, were burglarized, documents were photographed, and telephones were wiretapped. The investigation into the burglary revealed that high officials in the Nixon administration had ordered the break-in and then tried to cover up their involvement. Additional crimes were also uncovered. The ensuing Watergate Scandal, named for the complex, led to the resignation of Nixon on August 9, 1974. The name "Watergate" and the suffix "-gate" have since become synonymous with political scandals in the United States and in other English- and non-English-speaking nations as well.
- 1 Location
- 2 History
- 3 Individual buildings at the Watergate
- 4 See also
- 5 References
The Watergate superblock is 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.
For more than a century, the site on which the Watergate complex now stands had originally housed the Gas Works of the Washington Gas Light Company, which produced "manufactured gas" (a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, methane, and other flammable and nonflammable gases) used for heating, cooking, and lighting throughout the city. Gas production ceased at the site in 1947, and the plant was demolished shortly thereafter. In the 1950s, the World Bank considered building its international headquarters here and on the adjacent site (which now houses the Kennedy Center), but rejected the site for unspecified reasons in favor of its current location at 1818 H Street NW in Washington, D.C.
The Watergate name
The name of the Watergate complex relates to numerous aspects of its physical and historical context.
The complex is located directly adjacent to the zero milepost of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which operated from 1831 to 1924 and is now a National Historical Park — where the canal's large wooden water gate sits directly opposite its namesake on the Potomac. In 1960, the project's developer, Rome-based Societa Generale Immobiliare (SGI), purchased the 10-acre (40,000 m2) site, a portion of which had belonged to the then defunct Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
In his 2009 book Presidential Power on Trial: From Watergate to All the President's Men, William Noble wrote that the Watergate "got its name from overlooking the 'gate' that regulated the flow of water from the Potomac River into the Tidal Basin at flood tide."
Other sources trace an association to the "Water Steps" or "Water Gate," a set of ceremonial stairs west of the Lincoln Memorial (variously described as realized or unrealized)  previously located on the site of the complex.
Another namesake is the noted restaurant, the "Water Gate Inn" (1942-1966), that operated on the site prior to development of the Watergate complex.
In a 2004 article, John Kelly, writer for The Washington Post, noted the associations with the C&O Canal and its "water gate" (Kelly wrote, a canal lock is "quite literally, a water gate") as well with the Water Gate Inn, but gave his opinion that the name derived instead from the terraced steps that lead to the Potomac — and not the canal gate or the inn.
The steps had been originally planned as a the ceremonial gateway to the city and an official reception area for dignitaries arriving in Washington, D.C., via water taxi from Virginia, though they never served this function. Instead, beginning in 1935, the steps faced a floating performance stage on the Potomac River on which open-air concerts were held. Up to 12,000 people would sit on the steps and surrounding grass and listen to symphonies, military bands, and operas (as depicted in a scene in the motion picture Houseboat). The concerts on the barge ended in 1965 when jet airliner service began at National Airport, the jet noise impairing its viability as a music venue.
The proposed complex
The Watergate complex was developed by the Italian firm Società Generale Immobiliare (SGI). The company purchased the 10 acres (40,000 m2) that constitute the plot of land on the defunct Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in February 1960 for $10 million. The project was publicly announced on October 21, 1960. Italian Luigi Moretti of the University of Rome was the chief architect, and Milton Fischer of the D.C.-based firm of Corning, Moore, Elmore and Fischer the associate architect. The design of the apartment buildings included two-story units which would occupy the first and second floors, while the units on the uppermost floors had private rooftop terraces and fireplaces. The design for the entire complex also envisioned an electronic security system so extensive that the press claimed "intruders will have difficulty getting onto the grounds undetected." Boris V. Timchenko, a noted D.C.-based landscape architect, supervised the design of the grounds (which included more than 150 planters, tiers of fountains designed to create sounds like a waterfall, landscaped rooftop terraces, swimming pools, and a 7-acre (28,000 m2) park). Landscape features such as planters would also be used to create privacy barriers between apartments. The complex was the first mixed-use development in the District of Columbia, and was intended to help define the area as a business and residential rather than industrial district. The Watergate complex was intended to be a "city within a city," and provide so many amenities (such as a free 24-hour receptionist, room service provided by the Watergate Hotel, health club, restaurants, shopping mall, medical and dental offices, grocery, pharmacy, post office, and liquor store) that residents would not need to leave. At the time, it was also the largest renewal effort in the District of Columbia undertaken solely with private funds.
Initially, the project was projected to cost $75 million and consisted of six 16-story buildings comprising 1,400 apartment units, a 350-room hotel, office space, shops, 19 luxury "villas" (townhouses), and three-level underground parking for 1,250 vehicles. The Watergate's curved structures were designed to emulate two nearby elements. The first was the proposed Inner Loop Expressway, a curving freeway expected to be built just in front of the Watergate within the next decade. The second was the shape of the nearby Kennedy Center, then in the planning stage and whose original design was supposed to be curvilinear. Although the Kennedy Center later adopted a rectangular shape for cost reasons, the Watergate complex's design did not change. Incidentally, the curved structures would also give apartment dwellers an excellent view of the Potomac River. Because of the curves in the structure, the Watergate complex was one of the first major construction projects in the United States in which computers played a significant role in the design work.
Approval controversies and construction
Because the District of Columbia is the seat of the United States government, proposals for buildings in the city (particularly those in the downtown area, near federal buildings and monuments) must pass through an extensive, complex, and time-consuming approval process. The approval process for the Watergate complex had five stages. The first stage considered the proposed project as a whole as well as the first proposed building. The remaining four stages considered the four remaining proposed buildings in turn. At each stage, three separate planning bodies were required to give their approval: The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), the District of Columbia Zoning Commission (DCZC), and the United States Commission of Fine Arts (USCFA) (which had approval authority over any buildings built on the Potomac River to ensure that they fit aesthetically with their surroundings).
Fourteen months after the project was publicly announced, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) voiced its concern in December 1961 that the project's 16-story buildings would overshadow both the Lincoln Memorial and the proposed "National Cultural Center" (later to be called the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts). At the time, the District of Columbia had a 90-foot (27 m) height limit on all buildings except for those located exclusively along business streets. To obtain a height waiver, SGI would have to include retail office space in the complex, but the site was then zoned only for apartment buildings. Thus, initial approval first had to be won from the District of Columbia Zoning Commission. By the time the DCZC met to consider approval in mid-April 1962, the cost of the project had been scaled back to just $50 million. Because the District of Columbia lacked home rule, DCZC planners were reluctant to act without coordinating with agencies of the federal government. Additionally, many civic leaders, architects, business people, and city planners opposed the project before the DCZC because they feared it was too tall and too large. By the end of April, DCZC had announced a delay in its decision-making. The Commission of Fine Arts also had concerns. The USCFA felt some of the land should be preserved as public space, and objected to the height of the proposed buildings as well as their modern design. Three days after the DCZC meeting, the USCFA announced it was putting a "hold" on the Watergate development until its concerns were addressed. To counter this resistance, SGI officials met with members of the USCFA in New York City in April 1962 and defended the complex's design. SGI also scaled the height of the Watergate back to 14 stories from 16 stories. The project was then reviewed by the NCPC in May 1962. Additional revisions in the design plan pushed the cost back up to $65 million, even though only 17 villas were now planned. Based on this proposal, the NCPC approved the Watergate plan. With the support of the NCPC, SGI dug in its heels: It declared it was not interested in developing the unsightly, abandoned commercial site unless its basic curvilinear design (now called "Watergate Towne") was approved, and it actively lobbied DCZC commissioners in late May (lecturing them on the District's architectural heritage and the beauty of modern architecture). SGI officials also lobbied the USCFA. Meanwhile, White House staff made it known that the Kennedy administration wanted the height of the complex lowered to 90 feet (27 m). Three key staff were opposed to the project on height grounds: Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Special Assistant to the President; August Heckscher III, Special Consultant on the Arts; and William Walton, a Kennedy family confidante. The three briefed President John F. Kennedy on the issue, but it was not clear who made the decision to request the height reduction or who made the request public. The White House announcement surprised many, and offended federal and city planners (who saw it as presidential interference in their activities). SGI's chief architect, Gábor Ács, and Watergate chief architect Luigi Moretti flew to New York City on May 17 and defended the complex's design in a special three-hour meeting with USCFA members. SGI agreed to scale back 75 percent of the buildings in the development to just 13 stories (112 ft), with the remaining 25 percent of the buildings rising to 130 feet (40 m). SGI also agreed to add more open space to the project by scaling the size of the Watergate back to 1,730,000 square feet (161,000 m2) from 1.911 million square feet and by reorienting and/or re-siting some of the buildings in the complex. The USCFA gave its assent to the revised construction plan on May 28, the White House withdrew its objections, and the DCZC gave its final approval on July 13. The final plan broke one building into two, creating five rather than four construction projects. Moretti later admitted he probably would have lowered the height of the buildings anyway, and thought that the approval process had gone relatively smoothly. Construction was expected to begin in the spring of 1963 and last five years.
The Watergate project faced one final controversy, however. The group Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State began a national letter-writing campaign opposing the project, alleging that the zoning waivers would not have been given had the Vatican not been a major investor in SGI. By mid-November 1962, more than 2,000 protest letters had been sent to Congress and another 1,500 to the White House. But the group's attempt to stop construction failed, and the project went forward.
The project won its $44 million financial backing in late 1962, and its construction permits in May 1963. Construction began on the first building, the Watergate East apartment, in August 1963. The builder was Magazine Bros. Construction. Groundbreaking occurred in August 1963, and major excavation work was complete by May 1964.
The U.S. Commission on Fine Arts attempted once more, however, to significantly revise the project. In October 1963, the USCFA alleged that the height of the Watergate complex, as measured from the parkway in front of it, would exceed the agreed-upon height restrictions. SGI officials, however, contended that architects are required by law to measure from the highest point on the property on which they are to build; using this measurement, the building met the May 1962 agreement stipulations. On January 10, 1963, SGI and the USCFA agreed that the height of the complex would not exceed 140 feet (43 m) above water level (10 inches below that of the nearby Lincoln Memorial), that fewer than 300 apartment units would be built (to reduce population congestion), and to eliminate the proposed luxury villas (to create more open space). Luxury penthouse apartments, however, could extend above the 140-foot (43 m) limit if they were set back from the edge of the building and the 14th floor was foregone. With these adjustments, the total cost of the first apartment complex (excluding plumbing, electricity, and decoration) was estimated at $12,184,376. Construction proceeded. In September 1964, the Watergate's developers signed a first-of-its-kind agreement with the Washington Gas Light Co. for the utility to provide the entire complex with its heating and air conditioning. The building's foundation and basement were completed by September 1964, and the metal and concrete superstructure rose in October. Construction began on the second building, the 11-story office building and hotel, in February 1965.
The 110-foot (34 m) Watergate East opened in October 1965. The building was completed in May 1965, and a month later the first model apartment unit was opened to the public for viewing. Riverview Realty was the leasing agent for the complex. The Watergate East opened on October 23, 1965, and the first tenants moved in a few days later. Prices for the 238 cooperative apartment units ranged from $17,000 for efficiencies to more than $250,000 for penthouses, and were almost completely sold out by April 1967. The average apartment contained two bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, a dining room, and a kitchen, and cost $60,000. Parking space in the underground garage cost $3,000 per space. The tenants took title to their building on April 8, 1966. A Safeway supermarket, a Peoples Drug (now known as CVS pharmacy), beauty salon, barber shop, bank, bakery, liquor store, florist, dry cleaner, post office, upscale shops, and high-end restaurant took up residency in the retail space on the ground floor in November 1966.
The Watergate hotel and office complex opened on March 30, 1967, with the Watergate Hotel accepting its first customers the same day. The hotel's 12 stories initially only included 213 rooms, while the 12-story office building (attached to the hotel by a colonnade) had 200,000 square feet (19,000 m2) of office space. The combined hotel/office building included a health club, space on the ground floor for shops, and a restaurant on the top-floor (the Roman Terrace). Just 25 days later, the Democratic National Committee signed a lease for office space in the retail office portion of the building.
Construction on the fourth building in the complex, the Watergate West apartments, began in July 1967. Units in the unfinished building (prices ranges from $30,000 to $140,000 for apartments) began selling as early as October 1967, an indication of how popular the complex was with District residents. The third building (Watergate South) opened in June 1968, and the fourth building topped out on August 16, 1968. When completed, the Watergate South was the largest apartment building in the complex, with 260 units. By now, the cost of the project had risen to $70 million. Construction on the Watergate West was completed in 1969.
Controversy arose over the construction of the fifth and final building. Excavation and clearing of the Kennedy Center site had begun in 1965, and construction in early 1967. Construction on the Watergate's fifth building was due to begin in the fall of 1967, and advocates of the Kennedy Center began agitating for a change in the height of the building in June 1965. Plans for the fifth building called for a 140-foot (43 m) high structure with the upper floors set back to create more space and light. The general counsel for the Kennedy Center, however, told the USCFA that the Watergate Town (the development had dropped the "e") was planning a 170-foot (52 m)-high building which would harm the aesthetics of the Kennedy Center and intrude on the park-like setting surrounding it. The Watergate's attorneys asserted that their building would meet the agreed-upon 140-foot (43 m) height limit. The disagreement over the Watergate's final building continued for nearly two years. Watergate apartment residents such as Senator Wayne Morse lobbied the USFCA, DCZC, and NCPC to force SGI to accede to the Kennedy Center's wishes. In November 1967, the USCFA reaffirmed its approval of the Watergate project. When the DCZC appeared on the verge of giving its approval as well, the Kennedy Center argued that the DCZC had no jurisdiction over the controversy. The DCZC disagreed, and re-asserted its jurisdiction. The Kennedy Center then argued that the DCZC had not properly considered its objections, and should delay its approval pending further hearings. The District's legal counsel disagreed, giving the DCZC the go-ahead to reaffirm (or not) its approval ruling, which the Zoning Commission did on November 30, 1967. Although it appeared that SGI was winning the legal battle over the fifth building, D.C. city planners attempted to mediate the dispute between the Kennedy Center and the Watergate and achieve a contractual rather than legal solution. Three separate proposals were made to both sides on December 7, 1967 On April 22, 1968, SGI agreed to turn its fifth building slightly to the southwest in order to open up the Watergate complex a little more and give the Kennedy Center some limited open space. Although the Kennedy Center accepted the proposal, it demanded that the fifth building include apartment units (rather than be completely devoted to office space) in order to maintain the residential nature of the area. The fight now moved to the NCPC. In June 1968, the NCPC held a hearing at which more than 150 Watergate apartment residents clashed with SGI officials over the nature of the final building. On August 8, 1968, SGI and the Kennedy Center reached a resolution, agreeing that only 25 percent of the fifth building's 1,700,000 square feet (160,000 m2) would be used as office space and that the remaining space would become apartment units. The NCPC approved the revised plan in November 1968, and the DCZC did so five weeks later (specifically zoning the building for nonprofit and professional use only). The fifth building was completed in January 1971. Its first tenant was the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (which secured occupancy in February 1971) and its first major tenant was the Manpower Evaluation and Development Institute (it leased the entire eighth floor). In October 1972, several high-end fashion boutiques, jewelers, and a restaurant opened in the fifth building in a retail space named "Les Champs."
The total cost of the entire project once it was finished was $78 million.
The five buildings on the site as of July 2009 are:
- Watergate West – 2700 Virginia Avenue NW (cooperative apartments)
- Watergate Hotel and Office Building – 2600 Virginia Avenue NW (technically, the hotel's address is 2650 Virginia Avenue NW)
- Watergate East – 2500 Virginia Avenue NW (cooperative apartmentss)
- Watergate South – 700 New Hampshire Avenue NW (cooperative apartments)
- Watergate Office Building – 600 New Hampshire Avenue NW (office building; apartments and condominiums)
The Watergate's initial reception was poor, but the complex soon became recognized as one of D.C.'s finest examples of modern architecture. When models of the Watergate were unveiled in 1961, critics said the structure "would ruin the waterfront". Other critics denounced it as "nonconforming" and decried it as "Antipasto on the Potomac". As noted above, many individuals also felt the complex blocked views of the Potomac River, tended to overshadow nearby monuments and other buildings, and consumed too much open space. Some residents even felt the construction of the units was substandard. Architectural critics called the detailing "clunky".
The Washington Star newspaper, however, was an early proponent of the Watergate. In May 1962, it editorialized: "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." The curving design has continued to draw praise. A noted 2006 guidebook to the city's architecture concluded that the Watergate brought a "welcome fluidity" to the city's boxy look. Others praised the complex's internal public spaces. When the Watergate East opened in 1965, 'The Washington Post called these areas opulent and evocative of the best in Italian design. The New York Times characterized the design as "sweeping," and complimented each building's spectacular views of the Potomac River, Virginia skyline, and monuments. Many residents later said the flowing lines reminded them of a graceful ship.
In 1970, as the Watergate was nearing completion, SGI proposed building a "Watergate II" apartment, hotel, and office complex on the waterfront in Alexandria, Virginia, across the Potomac River from the original Watergate. Although the project initially received support from Alexandria city officials and business people, residents of the city's Old Town strongly objected. The project stalled for two years due to protests from residents and a land dispute regarding title to the waterfront land on which the project was to be sited.
Individual buildings at the Watergate
The entire Watergate complex was initially owned by Watergate Improvements, Inc., a division of SGI. In 1969, the Vatican sold its interest in SGI and no longer was part-owner of the Watergate. Although the Watergate was considered one of the most glamorous residences in the city, as early as 1970 residents and businesses complained of substandard construction, including a leaking roof and poor plumbing and wiring.
The three Watergate Apartment buildings total some 600 residential units. Among the many notable past occupants are the following: Alfred S. Bloomingdale, Anna Chennault, Bob and Elizabeth Dole (Watergate South), Plácido Domingo, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Watergate South), Alan Greenspan, Monica Lewinsky (she stayed briefly at her mother's apartment in the complex), Senator Russell Long, Clare Boothe Luce (after 1983), Robert McNamara, John and Martha Mitchell, Paul O'Neill, Condoleezza Rice, Mstislav Rostropovich, Maurice Stans, Ben Stein, Herbert Stein, John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor (during their marriage), Caspar Weinberger, Charles Z. Wick, and Rose Mary Woods. The Watergate's popularity among members of Congress and high-ranking executive branch political appointees has remained strong ever since the complex opened. So many members of the Nixon administration settled there that the Washington, D.C., press commented on it and nicknamed it the "Republican Bastille". The complex enjoyed a renaissance during the early 1980s and became known as the "White House West" due to the large number of Reagan administration officials living there.
The Watergate complex changed hands in the 1970s, and each building was sold off separately in the 1990s and 2000s (decade) (see below). Strict lease agreements, however, have kept the apartment buildings in residents' hands: In the Watergate South, for example, owners cannot rent their unit until a full year has passed, and no lease may last more than two years. In 1977, one of the Watergate's financiers (Nicholas Salgo) and Continental Illinois Properties bought SGI's stake in the development for $49 million. Two years later, Continental Illinois sold its interest to the National Coal Board Pension Fund in the U.K. Salgo did the same in 1986. The coal board pension fund put the Watergate complex up for sale in 1989, and estimated the complex's worth at between $70 million and $100 million. Several buildings were sold in the 1990s (for details, see below). The property was valued at $278 million in 1991. Efficiency units in that year sold for $95,000, while penthouse apartments went for $1 million or more. Various buildings were sold again in the early 2000s (decade). In 2005, all of the retail space in the complex was put up for sale.
Little redevelopment of the site has occurred in the 40 years since the Watergate was first built. The complex still includes three luxury apartment buildings, the hotel/office building, and two office buildings. The entire development was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 21, 2005.
The Watergate East apartment building is probably the second-best known of the five buildings in the development. It became the most sought-after living location in the city when it opened in 1966.
Problems with the building's construction became apparent shortly after its occupancy. The roof was leaking by 1968. The Washington Post published reports in October 1968 that SGI refused to fix the leaks unless residents dropped their opposition to the construction of the complex's fifth building. By 1970, problems at Watergate East led the press to dub the building the "Potomac Titanic," and its residents filed suit against the developer in 1971 to correct the structure's problems. Another lawsuit, filed in February 1970, sought exclusive access to the underground parking garage the cooperative claimed as its own, and demanded that the developer stop selling spaces in the residents' parking area. SGI filed a $4 million counterclaim alleging "malicious embarrassment" and five years later paid residents $600,000 to settle the cases.
The Watergate East was also the site of a major protest in 1970. In the weeks prior to the jury verdict in the trial of the Chicago Seven (in Chicago, Illinois), political activists began planning and then advertising that a protest would occur at the home of United States Attorney General John N. Mitchell (who lived in the Watergate East). As expected, the verdict was handed down on February 18, 1970 (all the defendants were found not guilty of conspiracy but five were found guilty of incitement to riot). That night, more than 200 people rallied at D.C.'s All Souls Unitarian Church to prepare for the mass protest demonstration the next day. On February 19, several hundred protestors gathered in front of the Watergate East and attempted to enter the building. Several hundred police, bused in to prevent the demonstration, engaged in street fighting with protestors, forced them to retreat, and eventually launched several tear gas canisters to disperse the crowd. More than 145 protesters were arrested. Although a second protest was expected the following day, it never emerged and police spent the day drinking coffee and eating cookies and pastries baked at the Watergate East's pastry shop.
The Watergate East tenants' cooperative refinanced its mortgage some time after 2000, and bought the land beneath its building.
Watergate Hotel and Office Building
The Watergate Hotel and Office Building is the best-known of the five buildings in the Watergate development.
Management and ownership of the hotel has fluctuated since the mid-1980s. Cunard Line, the cruise ship company, took over management of the hotel in 1986 and began redecorating and refurbishing the property. The British Coal Board pension fund sold the hotel portion of the building to a British-Japanese consortium in 1990 for $48 million. Blackstone Real Estate Advisors, the real estate affiliate of the Blackstone Group, bought the hotel for $39 million in July 1998. For a few years in the late 1990s and early 2000s (decade), the Watergate Hotel was operated by the Swissôtel hotel group. But the hotel underperformed other Swissôtel operations of similar size, location, and price. Jean-Louis Palladin's eponymous restaurant in the building closed in 1996. The hotel subsequently underwent a renovation in 2000. Swissôtel was purchased by Raffles Hotels and Resorts, and Raffles' management contract ended in May 2002. Blackstone began managing the hotel, and put it up for sale in the fall of 2002 (with an asking price of $50 million to $68 million). Monument Realty bought the hotel for $45 million in 2004 and planned to turn it into luxury apartment co-ops. But many residents in other parts of the complex (some of whom owned the 25 percent of the hotel not sold to Blackstone) argued that a hotel would better enhance the livability of the area and challenged the conversion in court. The hotel closed on August 1, 2007, for a $170 million 18-month renovation, during which the hotel rooms were intended to be roughly doubled in size to 650 square feet (60 m2). But the renovation never occurred, and the building sat empty—consuming $100,000 to $150,000 a month in security, heating, electricity, water, and other costs. Lehman Brothers, Monument Realty's financing partner, went bankrupt in 2008 and Monument was forced to attempt to sell the property. No buyer emerged and the Blackstone Group regained ownership of the hotel.
The Blackstone Group transferred the Watergate Hotel to its Trizec Properties subsidiary. Trizec did not pay the hotel's property taxes for 2008 (which amounted to $250,000), and estimated that it would take $100 million to make the hotel habitable due to the stalled 2007 renovation. The hotel was put on the market in May 2009, but once again no buyer emerged. The hotel was auctioned off on July 21, 2009 (with the minimum bid beginning at $1 million), but there were no buyers and Deutsche Postbank, which held the $40 million mortgage on the property, took over ownership. The bank began marketing the property for sale, and Monument Realty submitted a bid in October 2009 to buy the hotel back. Monument was outbid by developer Robert Holland and the Jumeirah Group (a luxury hotel chain based in Dubai), but the deal collapsed in November 2009 when financing fell through. Euro Capital Properties purchased the hotel in May 2010 for $45 million, with plans to rehabilitate it over the next two years.
Euro Capital announced its year-long, $85 million renovation of the hotel in January 2013. Among the improvements it wished to make were the addition of six outdoor "summer gardens" where liquor may be served. The plan would require the approval of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which voted to protest the liquor licenses unless the company reached an agreement with all the tenant associations in the Watergate condominiums. A year later, the company said its design team, led by the architectural firm BBGM, had completed a plan to increase the number of luxury hotel rooms to 348 from 251, renovate the lobby to add a bar and lounge, add a restaurant with some outdoor seating, and add a rooftop bar with a small water feature. Euro Capital also said it would seek a hotel management company to continue to operate the Watergate Hotel as an independent hotel. Construction on the new interior elements is planned to start in March 2014.
Euro Capital received the construction permits for its now $100 million renovation in May 2014. Architect Bahram Kamali of BBGM said the renovation will completely replace the electrical, HVAC, mechanical, and plumbing (fresh water and sewage) systems. The renovation now featured two new restaurants, upgraded ballrooms, and a new spa and fitness area. Kamali said the interior will feature high-quality, expensive plaster, stone, and wood finishes, but the exterior's iconic textured concrete balconies will remain unchanged except for repairs, repainting, and new windows. Grunley Construction will oversee all the renovations. Euro Capital said the vacant hotel should reopen in the summer of 2015.
The office building portion of the building contains 198,000 square feet (18,400 m2).
In 1972, the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) occupied the entire sixth floor of the 11-story building at 2600 Virginia Avenue. The DNC had occupied the space since the building opened in 1967. On May 28, 1972, a team of burglars working for President Richard M. Nixon's re-election campaign bugged the phones of and took photos in and near the DNC chairman's office. The phone taps were monitored from the burglars' rooms (first Room 419, later Room 723) at the Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge across the street at 2601 Virginia Avenue NW. During a second burglary on June 17, 1972, to replace a malfunctioning phone tap and collect more information, five of the burglars were arrested and the Watergate scandal began to unfold. A plaque on the sixth floor of the office building portion of the Watergate Hotel commemorates the break-in.
The break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters was not the first break-in at the Watergate. The first break-in, however, shares a remarkable connection with the DNC burglary. The first break-in at the complex was the burglary of a residential unit in 1969. The victim was Rose Mary Woods, President Nixon's personal secretary. The burglars took jewelry and some personal items. Woods would later be accused of erasing 18 and a half minutes from President Nixon's secret Oval Office audio taping system—specifically, the tape from June 20, 1972, that proved central to the Watergate scandal.
In 1993, the British coal board pension fund sold the office portion of the building (as well as the land under two of the three Watergate apartment buildings) to The JBG Companies (an American firm) and Buvermo Properties Inc. (a Dutch company). In 1997, JBG Cos. and Buvermo Properties sold the office building to the Blackstone Group's Trizec Properties division. Trizec put the office building up for sale for $100 million in 2005 and sold it to BentleyForbes Acquisitions LLC, a private firm owned by C. Frederick Wehba and members of the Los Angeles-based Webha family. BentleyForbes put the office tower up for sale on March 12, 2009. In November 2011, after 20 months on the market, the office building sold for $76 million to the Penzance Cos.
In mid-2012, the office building's new owner began a multi-million dollar upgrade to the Watergate Office Building's lobby, common areas, and Virginia Avenue entrance. The modernization was complete in December 2012, and the building began leasing space again in January 2013.
The Watergate South has been the home to a number of notable individuals. As of 2009, perhaps its most famous resident is former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Like the Watergate East, residents of this building have discussed buying the land beneath their building, but there is no urgency as the lease on the land does not expire until 2070.
Construction problems and leaks at Watergate West led the press to ridicule this building, like others in the complex, as the "Potomac Titanic." On March 2, 1971, residents of the Watergate West filed a lawsuit against SGI in which they claimed their units had defective stoves, faulty air conditioning, leaky windows and balconies, and deficient plumbing. SGI said the problems were similar to those with any new building, and that it had already spent $300,000 fixing things.
Like the Watergate East, residents of this building have discussed buying the land beneath their building but do not need to do so until the land lease expires in 2070.
Watergate Office Building
Britain's National Coal Board Pension Fund sold the Watergate Office Building to John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance in the early 1990s. The building underwent a renovation of its office spaces in 1994. The Atlantic Monthly magazine owner David G. Bradley purchased the office building in 2003.
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- Presidential Power on Trial: From Watergate to All the President's Men, William Noble, p. 8. Enslow Pub, March 2009. "It got its name from overlooking the 'gate' that regulated the flow of water from the Potomac River into the Tidal Basin at flood tide."
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- Lindsay, Drew. "The Watergate: The Building That Changed Washington." Washingtonian. October 1, 2005.
- "Roman Giant." Time. January 25, 1963.
- Willmann, John B. "Foggy Bottom Gas House Site To Get Facelift." The Washington Post. October 22, 1961.
- At least one source, however, claims the land was purchased for just $7 million. See: Livingston, Mike. "Watergate: The Name That Branded More Than A Building." Washington Business Journal. June 14, 2002.
- Eisen, Jack. "Architect Plans 'Touch of Rome'." The Washington Post. August 6, 1963.
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- Three circumferential beltways had been proposed for the Washington, D.C., area in 1956. The innermost beltway, which would have formed a flattened oval centered on the Kennedy Center/Watergate complex in the west, running southwest along what is currently Ohio Drive SW until it linked with the Southwest Freeway portion of I-395, north along I-395 to L Street NW, and then west along an underground tunnel beneath K Street NW to join near the western nexus with the Whitehurst Freeway and I-66—completing the loop. Two decades of protest led to the cancellation of all but the I-395 portion of the plan. The unbuilt portions of the project were finally cancelled in 1977. See: Levey, Bob and Levey, Jane Freundel. "End of The Roads." The Washington Post. November 26, 2000; Schrag, Zachary M. "The Freeway Fight in Washington, D.C.: The Three Sisters Bridge in Three Administrations." Journal of Urban History. 30:5 (July 2004); Mohl, Raymond A. "The Interstates and the Cities: The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Freeway Revolt, 1966–1973." Journal of Policy History. 20:2 (2008); Schrag, Zachary M. The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-8018-8246-X; Rose, Mark H. Interstate: Express Highway Politics, 1939–1989. Rev. ed. Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 1990. ISBN 0-87049-671-9; Eisen, Jack. "Md. Vetoes I-95 Extension Into District." The Washington Post. July 13, 1973; Feaver, Douglas B. "Three Sisters Highway Project Is Killed - Again." The Washington Post. May 13, 1977.
- Gutheim, Frederick Albert and Lee, Antoinette Josephine. Worthy of the Nation: Washington, D.C., From L'Enfant to the National Capital Planning Commission. 2d ed. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-8018-8328-8
- "Computers Help Lay Out Plan at Watergate." The Washington Post. November 14, 1964.
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- White, Jean M. "Woes Stall Watergate Project." The Washington Post. October 18, 1963.
- "Watergate Project Foes Present Views to Zoners." The Washington Post." April 14, 1962.
- Goshko, John M. "Watergate Apartment Designs Changed by Architect Agreement." The Washington Post. May 19, 1962.
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- "Fine Arts Wins Delay In Watergate Zoning." The Washington Post. April 19, 1962.
- Huxtable, Ada Louise. "Controversy Widens on Design Of Development in Washington." The New York Times. April 29, 1962.
- "NCPC Reaffirms Watergate Stand." The Washington Post. May 11, 1962.
- Goshko, John M. "130-Ft. Height Or Nothing, Say Towne Backers." The Washington Post. May 16, 1962; "Commissoners Hear Watergate's Designer." The Washington Post. May 18, 1962.
- Stern, Laurence. "White House Acts to Cut Height of Huge Watergate Development." The Washington Post. May 5, 1962.
- Goshko, John M. "Design for Watergate Towne Development Wins Fine Arts Commission Endorsement." The Washington Post. May 29, 1962.
- Goshko, John M. "Zoning Board Yields on 130 Feet As Height for Towne Apartments." The Washington Post. May 30, 1962; Stern, Laurence. "New Watergate Towne Plan Favored." The Washington Post. July 12, 1962.
- "High-Rise Watergate Towne Given Final D.C. Approval." The Washington Post. July 14, 1962.
- "Towne Plan Stirs Row by Protestants." The Washington Post. November 17, 1962.
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- "Watergate Noses Up." The Washington Post. October 3, 1964.
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- "Watergate Operating As 'Co-Op'." The Washington Post. April 9, 1966.
- "Problems of Watergate, 'In' Place of the Capital, Anger Residents." The New York Times. March 12, 1972.
- "New Peoples Drug Opens in Watergate." The Washington Post. November 6, 1966.
- "Watergate Apartment Hotel Opens." The Washington Post. April 1, 1967.
- "Democrats to Take New Headquarters." The Washington Post. April 26, 1967.
- "Fourth Building Started." The Washington Post. July 1, 1967.
- "Watergate Selling In Fourth Building." The Washington Post. October 7, 1967.
- "Watergate Opening." The Washington Post. June 23, 1968.
- "Watergate Complex Spreads Out." The Washington Post. August 17, 1968.
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- Morgan, Dan. "Watergate Facing New Height Fight." The Washington Post. June 17, 1965.
- "Kennedy Center Protests Apartments." The New York Times. September 16, 1967.
- "Sen. Morse Backs Watergate Plans." The Washington Post. October 19, 1967.
- "Watergate Plans Reaffirmed." The Washington Post. November 16, 1967.
- West, Hollie I. "Zoners Firm in Center Fight." The Washington Post. October 19, 1967.
- "Watergate Ruling Due Soon." The Washington Post. November 25, 1967.
- "Zoning Unit Approves 5th Building in Watergate Project." The Washington Post. December 1, 1967.
- Hoagland, Jim. "Alternatives Offered in Watergate Rift." The Washington Post. December 8, 1967.
- "Watergate Defers To Kennedy Center." The Washington Post.April 23, 1968.
- "Compromise Plan Ends Watergate Controversy." The Washington Post. August 9, 1968.
- West, Hollie I. "Board Hears Watergate Zoning Row." The Washington Post. June 27, 1968.
- Clopton, Willard. "New Design Approved For Watergate Project." The Washington Post. November 8, 1968; "Commercial Zoning Denied Watergate." The Washington Post. December 17, 1968.
- Hedgpeth, Dana. "Watergate Offices on the Market." The Washington Post. May 21, 2005.
- Carter, Philip D. "Watergate: Potomac Titanic." The Washington Post. May 3, 1970.
- Wagner, Ruth. "Oriental Opulence and Italian Grandeur." The Washington Post. June 6, 1965.
- Edwards, Paul G. "8-Acre High Rise Site Eyed." The Washington Post. July 22, 1970.
- Edwards, Paul G. "Alexandria Likes Idea of Watergate." The Washington Post. July 23, 1970; Edwards, Paul G. "Waterfront Plan Backed In Alexandria." The Washington Post. August 10, 1971.
- Omang, Joanne. "Alexandria Land Swap Is Proposed." The Washington Post. July 21, 1973.
- Willman, John B. "Security to Be Tight At Watergate Landmark." The Washington Post. September 8, 1973.
- "Vatican May Sell Watergate Interest." The Washington Post. June 19, 1969.
- "Hotel Sale Could Give the Watergate a Lift." The Washington Post. July 21, 2009.
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- As of 2005, the hotel was owned by The George Washington University and used as a dormitory for graduate students. See: Kessler, Undercover Washington: Where Famous Spies Lived, Worked, and Loved, 2005.
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- Hedgpeth, Dana. "Real Estate Firm Puts Watergate Office Tower Up for Sale." The Washington Post. March 13, 2009.
- O'Connell, Jonathan. "Source: Penzance Lands Watergate Offices for $76 Million." Washington Post. November 22, 2011.
- Sernovitz, Daniel J. "Penzance Signs First Tenant to Watergate Building." Washington Business Journal. January 18, 2013.
- "BentleyForbes takes Watergate office property off the market", Washington Business Journal, May 29, 2008.