News & Politics

Soon There Could Be No Traces of the Watergate Scandal at the Watergate

The old Howard Johnson hotel faces a proposed gutting and redo.

The old Howard Johnson hotel is on the right across the street from the Watergate. Photograph via Flickr user mdmarkus66.

Fairly soon there won’t be any remnants of the Watergate scandal remaining at or near the Watergate complex itself. The office building where the infamous burglary happened in 1972 at Democratic National Committee headquarters has changed hands many times, undergoing various renovations along the way. Now the old Howard Johnson building across Virginia Avenue, where part of the burglary team kept watch from two rooms, faces a possible gutting and extensive renovation by its owner, George Washington University. GW uses the building as a dormitory for nearly 200 students.

The Watergate “burglars” booked rooms 419 and 723, and from there trained binoculars across the street to the sixth floor of the Watergate Office Building, where their cohorts broke in. The DNC had the whole floor. The burglary was discovered as it was happening by a night security guard making his rounds, and from that discovery cascaded epic historic events, culminating in the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.Today the sixth-floor offices are occupied by several office tenants.

At a Foggy Bottom/West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting this week, GWU said it has completed a feasibility study for the proposed renovation and is preparing to hire an architect. A spokesperson for GW, Michelle Sherrard, deftly negotiated the question of what has or will happen to the historic couple of rooms in the old HoJo. She told the Current newspaper, “The character of the building has been significantly changed over time. Previous alterations have already removed the significant characteristics of the era.” We know what that means.

Which is too bad. They are a piece of history. In an age when even the office of the late NBC anchor Tim Russert makes it into the Newseum intact, we expected that someone along the way would have had the idea to preserve rooms 419 or 723 in a museum.