‘Embrace its history’: The Watergate Hotel negotiates its claim to fame
Fifty years after the scandal that put it on the map, the Watergate Hotel embraces its history, right down to its phone number.
A half-century ago Friday, the break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate complex in DC’s Foggy Bottom led to an investigation that gripped the country for two years and led to the states’ only presidential resignation. -United. This week, OMCP’s Rick Massimo talks to experts about how the whole affair has affected American politics, history, and even language ever since.
The break-in at the Watergate complex that ultimately brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon occurred on June 17 – or 6/17 – 1972. The phone number for the Watergate Hotel is 844-617-1972; the recorded voice responding greets callers with “There’s no need to break in”, and the lettering on the pencils in the rooms reads, “I stole this from the Watergate Hotel. “
So, it’s not like the place is running away from its infamous fame. On the contrary, marketing director Ali Le told WTOP, “He’s embracing his story, now more than ever.”
The Watergate began making history before the complex opened, which took place in stages in the late 1960s and early 1970s, growing to five buildings of offices, apartments and l hotel itself.
The European-style architecture proposed in 1959, with its concrete curves and spikes, was at odds with much of Washington’s image at the time, leading one reviewer to assert that it was ” as appropriate as a stripper at your grandmother’s funeral”.
The name comes from several places – the eastern area near the literal water gate near the Jefferson Memorial, and the name “Watergate” was used for the concrete steps (which are still there) leading from the west side of the Lincoln Memorial .
From about 1935 to 1966, the steps served as outdoor seating for concerts held on a floating stage in front of the steps. The Water Gate Inn was a restaurant that operated on 27th and F streets in northwest DC from 1942 to 1966.
It didn’t take long for the apartment complex to attract a bipartisan group of dignitaries, including senators and administration officials, but it’s not for nothing that a 1969 Washington Post article titled “Watergate, Where Republicans Gather”.
At the time, three Nixon cabinet officials—Commerce Secretary Maurice Stans, Transportation Secretary John Volpe, and Attorney General John Mitchell—lived in the compound.
Stans later pleaded guilty in connection with financing the Watergate break-in and was fined $5,000; Mitchell, the face of Nixon’s “law and order” administration, was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice and conspiracy, and served 19 months in prison.
Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s personal secretary, also lived in Watergate. She was briefly known for the absurd “Rose Mary Stretch”, in which she was put in the position of contorting herself behind her desk in a lame attempt to demonstrate how the 18½ minute erasure in a crucial office recording oval could have been accidental.
The infamous events at Watergate have been a selling point for the hotel ever since. The hotel portion of the complex closed and sat idle for seven years, during which time the building’s boat-like appearance inspired the nickname “Shipwreck on the Potomac”. It reopened in 2015 after a $125 million renovation.
Le said the aim of the renovation was to spruce up the hotel while maintaining its unique design.
“We wanted to preserve a lot of the original design of Watergate and all the curves. And if you walk through the hall, you can still see the way the building itself is kind of curved in a certain way.
And the old Room 214 – the command center from which “plumbers” Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy stood on the balcony and directed the Democratic National Committee break-in using two-way radios and binoculars – has been restored to its early-1970s condition, with period newspapers and other memorabilia forming part of the decor.
On Friday, for the 50th anniversary, the hotel will offer tours led by Paul Leeper and John Barrett, the two DC police officers who arrested the Watergate burglars; cocktails themed around the “Gaslit” miniseries, about Mitchell’s wife, Martha, a key source of Watergate news at the start of the scandal; and a chance to visit the Scandal Room.
You can even stay in the Scandal Room during the month of June. Packages, Le said, start at — what else — $1,972.