The Watergate Hotel has always been a powerhouse. Originally, quite literally.
Rewind the history tapes back—way back—to the 1840s and '50s (and don't hit the erase button). Foggy Bottom, the Northwest D.C. neighborhood on the Potomac, was a capital of industry and an enclave of immigrants, its skies clouded with fumes by day and illuminated with oil lanterns by night. There, on the site of the future Watergate complex, emerged the Washington Gas Works, which provided safe, clean-burning, and reliable energy to an area ranging from the National Mall to the city outskirts.
Ever since, though, that particular slice of Foggy Bottom has had a checkered history. The site was mired in controversy even before the Watergate was conceived. The unlucky streak didn't take much of a break between groundbreaking and the era of Deep Throat, smoking guns, and “I am not a crook.” Perhaps it will finally end now.
On the heels of a nine-year, $125 million renovation by Euro Capital Properties, the Watergate reopens its doors on Tuesday as a luxury hotel with 336 rooms and two presidential suites. (Trump and Clinton can each set up shop, sans spies, should they be so bold). In its new incarnation, the Watergate is trying to reclaim the glitz and glamour of its pre-Nixon era—when Stevie Wonder would play tunes on the lobby piano and Andy Warhol threw parties in his private residence. Among the lavish details: Zebrano marble bathrooms, a heated rooftop lounge with views of the river, and a 12,000-square-foot Argentta spa. The going rates? $359 for a standard double, $800 for one-bedroom suites, and up to $12,000 for one of the presidential penthouses.
If none of it sounds particularly reminiscent of the 1970s, that’s intentional. A spokesperson told Bloomberg that the hotel is trying to harken “back to its glamorous heyday, pre-scandal” and has preserved little more than an original staircase and a 45-foot-long saltwater pool. A few cheeky exceptions: hotel keycards emblazoned with the words “No Need to Break In” and pens that say “I stole this from The Watergate Hotel.”
In other words, you can’t stay in the infamous Room 214, where police found key evidence of the White House-led burglary. (The hotel has been re-keyed with a whole new layout.) And no, you can’t cut your two-inch-thick filet mignon with vintage steak knives from the Nixon era. (They were all sold years ago.) Still, nobody will stop you from streaming All The President’s Men from the comfort of your goose down-topped bed. And no matter how much the hotel tries to whitewash its past, you can still savor the fun of sleeping on scandal-riddled ground by reading up on these seven secret scandals.
The Watergate stood for government corruption well before Richard Nixon came along.
In the 1920s, a Naval hospital on the site of the Watergate became emblematic of the divide between the private and public sector that persists to this day. Though the neighborhood was home to some of Washington’s most impoverished unskilled-labor communities, its residents had no access to the sprawling health-care compound in their back yards.
Years later, an additional round of controversy erupted around the Watergate’s oversized architectural plans. With backing from an Italian developer (and thus, the Vatican), the monumental design sparked heated debates about the separation of church and state—and which had the upper hand in shaping the city’s skyline. Ultimately, the building height was revised as to not compete with that of the Kennedy Center next door.
The architect was also a convicted Fascist.
Among Luigi Moretti’s best-known buildings is Rome's sprawling sports center, the Foro Italico—formerly called the Foro Mussolini. It's as good an indication as any that Mussolini was one of the architect’s biggest patrons. Throughout World War II, Moretti supported Mussolini and identified strongly with the National Fascist Party and its leaders; he was imprisoned briefly as a result of his ties to that party.
There was more than one Watergate break-in.
The hotel burglary of 1972 needs no introduction. But three years prior, in the Watergate apartment complex across the street, another incident raised eyebrows about the complex's security standards. In 1969, Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods—a full-time Watergate resident and the woman later accused of deleting the smoking gun portion of the Oval Office tapes—arrived home to find that her jewelry box had been burglarized. According to records from the Washingtonian, damages amounted to thousands of dollars. To this day, the burglary is considered a coincidence, unrelated to the subsequent Nixon scandal. Then again ...