Jun 13, 2022 - News

What you should know about the Watergate complex

The Watergate.

Photo: Robert Knopes/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Watergate complex is largely overlooked today as the city continues developing to the east. 

Flashback: But from the time the first building opened — roughly seven years before the scandal — the complex was the talk of the town. 

The Watergate was one of D.C.’s first mixed-use developments, per this Washingtonian deep dive into the building’s history. It was also one of the first big city projects backed by foreigners: Italian real estate company Società Generale Immobiliare.

  • One of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s favorite architects, Luigi Moretti, designed the complex. Some admired the curving shape, an out-of-character choice for Washington. 
  • Washington Post critic Wolf Von Eckardt said the design was as appropriate as "a strip dancer performing at your grandmother's funeral."

Zoom in: The complex became the home of VIP Washington’s power set, with a country club vibe, in Washingtonian’s telling, and a certain nickname: the “Republican Bastille.”

  • “Maurice Stans, Nixon's secretary of Commerce, bought a $130,000 unit, which his wife decorated with tiger skins, elephant tusks, and other souvenirs from African safaris,” according to the magazine. “John Mitchell, Nixon's attorney general, bought a three-bedroom duplex for $325,000–thought to be the most paid by a Nixon aide. Wife Martha … threw lavish parties there, including a bridal shower for Tricia Nixon.” 

But the scandal upended the Watergate’s reputation. As one of the developers told Washingtonian, no one wanted to rent the DNC offices for nearly two years afterward. 

  • Meanwhile, “guests at the hotel stole hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of towels, robes, and other items emblazoned with the Watergate logo as souvenirs.”

Zoom out: In the years since, plenty of boldface names moved in — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Condoleezza Rice, and Monica Lewinsky, when she was wrapped up in a different presidential scandal. 

Today: The Watergate Hotel is leaning into the 50th anniversary with special packages. It also offers “Scandal Suite” tours where visitors can explore (or stay in) the room where E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy led the DNC burglars using binoculars and radios.

  • Though the Safeway is long-gone, there are other businesses at the complex, including a CVS and deli.

For a real taste of Watergate, try the Watergate Scandal cocktail at The Next Whisky Bar at the hotel.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Washington D.C..


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Washington D.C. stories

No stories could be found

Washington D.C.postcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Washington D.C..


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more