Watergate Notes

I get an appreciative chuckle whenever I tell people I am staying at the Watergate Hotel. Even before the break-in, the ten-acre aggregate comprising three cooperatives, the hotel, and two office buildings began to tickle the public fancy because the Mitchells lived here—in the cooperative known as. Watergate East—at the time when Martha, looking out of the window of her husband’s office down-town at the Justice Department, watched “the very liberal Communists, the worst kind” demonstrating in the street below.

Now the Mitchell tenure here and that of Maurice Stans are only vaguely recalled; what tourists come to look at and be photographed in front of are the office building, where the Democratic National Committee had its headquarters on the sixth floor, and the more plebeian red-roofed Howard Johnson Motor Lodge, opposite, where the listening-post of the wire-tappers was situated. Tourists also roam through the hotel lobby, buy Watergate joke material, including bugs, at the newsstand, and take a peep at the Watergate Terrace Restaurant overlooking the outdoor swimming pool (restricted to cooperative residents; there is an indoor swimming pool, with sauna, for hotel guests), where McCord and his men are supposed to have had a lobster dinner before the break-in.

As the hotel literature puts it, “The Watergate Complex, one of the most distinctive private real estate developments in the nation, offers a way of life that is complete in every respect…for you, the visitor, as well as for those who reside and/or work in this pace-setting community.” Designed by an Italian architect, the whole complex, with the exception of the office buildings, bristles with rows of stony teeth, which are a sort of coping around the balconies opening off nearly every room. The impression is of an updated medieval fortress, quite extensive, and between Watergate East and Watergate South there is what looks like a Bridge of Sighs, topped by an American flag. Those uniform graywhite teeth projecting from the curious swollen shapes, elliptical, wedge-like, semi-circular, of the building units, suggest a sea animal—a whale, somebody said, but also something sharkish. To assure privacy, balconies are separated from each other by what seem to be cement fins. Maybe the marine imagery is meant to be in harmony with the Potomac setting. The teeth, on close inspection, turn out to be made of tiny stones pressed into cement, giving a scaly effect.

Even though it is summer and not always too hot, almost nobody appears on the balconies, which are the main architectural feature; empty garden furniture stares out from them on the landscaped grounds. Once I saw a single figure, a fat woman in a pink wrapper, wander ghost-like behind her toothy parapet. Yet at some point in time, as the Ervin Committee witnesses express it, somebody must have used my balcony, for when I arrived, ten days ago, two empty beer cans (Budweiser) were lying there; this morning, finally, they were gone—the windowwasher had come by. On a few of the cooperative balconies, there are some…

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