Watergate is the hot address in Washington DC (1969)

Note: This article may feature affiliate links, and purchases made may earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. Find out more here.


A few years before President Nixon’s huge Watergate scandal, Watergate was best known as a hot address — especially for politicians — in Washington DC.

In Washington, it used to be Georgetown — now it’s Watergate

politics and washington dc elite - watergate - 1969

Just everybody lives there

In the wintertime, Dr. Sam Johnson believed, swallows “conglobulate together” at the bottom of rivers. In this he was mistaken, but there is no mistaking the tendency of political leaders in Washington to conglobulate in mutually agreeable spots, depending not on the season but the Administration.

Under Kennedy, Georgetown was the right address. Under Nixon, it is the toothy structure shown here, a $70 million cooperative apartment complex called the Watergate, which has a view of the Potomac, several swimming pools, spectacular architecture with a nautical flavor, and a proximity (eight blocks) to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Any American who comes under the heading of “forgotten” may as well not apply. Membership in Watergate, which presently includes (on the G.O.P. side alone) three Cabinet members, two senators, Nixon’s chief of protocol and more than a dozen White House aides, is sharply restricted both socially and financially. A typical resident is aged about 50 and arrives with more dogs than children. If he has a car, no problem, there is a garage underground. The annual parking charge is $3,500.

LIFE Aug 8, 1969 watergate 1


Photo: Lifeguard Linda Fox contemplates one of Watergate’s three pools (left). The choice apartments above and at left face the grassy banks of the Potomac, but those on the opposite side have a commanding view of the Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge and lower price tags.


LIFE Aug 8, 1969 watergate 3

White House West: Watergate’s main attractions

Befitting its reputation as “White House West,” Watergate decided to open its second apartment house (a third is under way) on Inauguration Day, 1969.

Like its east wing counterpart, Watergate West looks rather like a ship with curved decks and rooftop smoke-stacks. In fact, Watergate East has even leaked a little. Both building facades are studded with crenelated panels reminding observers of dragon’s teeth, milk bottles or bowling pins.

The interior of Watergate West’s free-form superstructure includes a number of “luxury features.” The lobby is resplendent with fake Chou Dynasty lamps and curtains handwoven in Swaziland. The elevators are flooded with Muzak, and the bathrooms are paved with marble and equipped with bidets and golden faucets.

The 143 apartments vary as much in design as they do in price (from $28,000 for a one-bedroom to $186,000 for a penthouse). Many living and dining rooms are trapezoids or obtuse-angled triangles, while a few entranceways are circles.

Watergate has been gradually revealing its imperfections, however. Despite watchful doormen, security guards and 23 closed-circuit TV cameras, there have been several spectacular jewelry thefts. Low-flying jets are always censoring balcony conversations. Residents unused to apartment living feel dwarfed and entombed by the sterile and pervasive glass and concrete. And with the confluence of polluted Rock Creek and the polluted Potomac only a block away, on some hot summer evenings, you can hardly smell the honeysuckle.

>> A look back at Richard Nixon’s presidency & the Watergate scandal (1974)

LIFE Aug 8, 1969 watergate 4

LIFE Aug 8, 1969 watergate 5

LIFE Aug 8, 1969 watergate 6

LIFE Aug 8, 1969 watergate 7

LIFE Aug 8, 1969 watergate 8

LIFE Aug 8, 1969 watergate 2

Photographed by MICHAEL ROUGIER

PS: If you liked this article, please share it! You can also get our free newsletter, follow us on Facebook & Pinterest, plus see exclusive retro-inspired products in our shop. Thanks for visiting!


You might also like...

The fun never ends:

Comments on this story

Leave a comment here!

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

See some of our books!