Watergate complex
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 m 2) 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, and in the 1990s it was broken up, and buildings and parts of buildings sold to various owners. In 1972, the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, 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 President Richard M. Nixon in 1974. The name "Watergate" and the suffix " -gate" have since become synonymous with political scandal in the United States and in other English-speaking nations.

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.


The site
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 proposed complex
The Watergate complex was developed by the Italian firm SocietàGenerale Immobiliare (SGI). The company purchased the 10 acres (40,000 m 2) 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 a 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 m 2) 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. The name of the complex was derived from the terraced steps west of the Lincoln Memorial that lead down to the Potomac River. The steps were originally planned as the official reception area for dignitaries arriving in Washington, D.C., via water taxi from Virginia, but 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. The concerts on the barge ceased in 1965 when jet airliner service began at National Airport, making too much noise for music programs to continue. 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 each 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 (and still does as of July 2010), 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 ícs, 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 m 2) 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 m 2) 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 (158,000 m 2) 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 (apartments and condominiums)
  • 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 (apartments and condominiums)
  • Watergate South ”“ 700 New Hampshire Avenue NW (apartments and condominiums)
  • Watergate Office Building ”“ 600 New Hampshire Avenue NW (office building; apartments and condominiums)

Critical reception
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.

Watergate II
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. The Watergate II project was eventually abandoned in favor of a much larger complex near Landmark Mall in Alexandria (a site nowhere near water).

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,


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