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Watergate named a landmark
(Published March 7, 2005)

Its unique architecture coupled with a national scandal that changed the world of politics and the media caused the Watergate complex to receive status Feb. 24 as a historic landmark in the District of Columbia.

The unanimous vote by the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board placed the complex on the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites with nearly 800 other buildings, streets and parks.

The decision comes five months after a local developer purchased the site’s famous hotel unit with the intent to convert it into luxury cooperative apartments by next year.

Supporters of historic status at the complex said the deal prompted their proposal to the board, and they hope the ruling will prohibit developers from making drastic changes to the complex’s architecture and landscape.

Changes to the site "have to be carefully monitored," and they should be "thoughtful and considerate to historic preservation," said Emily Hotaling president and chief executive officer of EHT Traceries Inc., a research and consulting firm specializing in architectural history and historic preservation.

Plans for new construction on a historic site must be approved by the Historic Preservation Review Board and, in addition, must receive approval from zoning officials and the Commission on Fine Arts.

Representatives of the 13-story Watergate East apartment building in the complex said they worried that historic designation could lead to changes in the landscape and disrupt the acquisition of additional security measures.

Tim Denee, an architectural historian with the D.C. Historic Preservation Office, said the most important characteristics defining the historic value of the landscape will be preserved, such as the slope of the land and its location in the center of the buildings. He also said security projects will not be disrupted and are currently undergoing the permit-approval process.

The Watergate complex, designed by the late Italian architect Luigi Moretti and built between 1964 and 1971, is composed of six interconnected buildings containing residences, offices, a hotel and a shopping center. Construction of the site was an attempt to draw people back into the city, at a time when most were purchasing homes in the suburbs, by creating a "modern" center that had everything people need in one location.

The site received worldwide notoriety after burglars connected with President Richard M. Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign were arrested for breaking into Democratic Party offices in the Watergate Hotel. The investigation of the break-in eventually led to Nixon's resignation in 1974.

Monument Realty LLC, located in Northwest Washington, purchased the 250-room hotel last September and plans to turn it into about 100 cooperative apartments that will sell for between $650,000 and $7 million.-By Stephanie Brinson

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator