Lifeguard At The Watergate

What Was It Like to Live in Watergate?

Before its name became a byword for corruption and criminality, "Watergate" meant luxury living for DC's elite. Care to step inside?

The word "Watergate" has, of course, come to stand for many things: politics at its worst; journalism at its best; the downfall of a presidency. But in the mid 1960s and early '70s, Watergate was a ritzy residential-slash-retail complex in Washington, D.C., where the rich and politically connected lived and frolicked. In 1969, three years before the notorious break-in at Democratic National Committee offices there, LIFE magazine sent staff photographer Michael Rougier to Watergate to capture the heady scene.
Pictured: A lifeguard at a Watergate pool.

Behind Washington's Velvet Rope Michael Rougier Behind Washington's Velvet Rope The story that ran in LIFE — titled "Just Everybody Lives There" — was a voyeuristic, snarky-for-the-times peek behind the velvet rope at Watergate's opulence, a tone that Rougier nailed in his pictures. Here, for instance, is how the magazine described the residents: "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."
Pictured: Emil Mosbacher, chief protocol officer of the U.S. and his wife, Patricia, in Watergates' driveway.
Inside the 'Africana' Room Michael Rougier Inside the 'Africana' Room Here, Watergate resident Maurice Stans, the Secretary of Commerce, and his wife, Kathleen, nest in their "Africana" room among furnishings they picked up during many a safari vacation. With respect to the apartment's layout, LIFE went out of its way to mention that, "At first Mrs. Stans found their $130,000 apartment 'zigged and zagged' and made her dizzy." Note: $130K in 1969 would be about $900,000 today, and a huge amount of money to spend on an apartment. A World of its Own Michael Rougier A World of its Own A mere eight blocks from the White House, Watergate was built with the intention of being a sort of city within a city so that residents didn't feel the need to venture out among the great unwashed. The $70 million complex, which opened to residents in late 1965, included amenities such as room service (offered by the Watergate hotel), a health club, a choice of swimming pools, restaurants, retail stores, medical and dental offices, a post office, and, yes, a liquor store. Red Room Michael Rougier Red Room Here's how LIFE merrily details Watergate's 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.... Many living and dining rooms are trapezoids or obtuse-angled triangles."
Pictured: Maurice Stans in his very red apartment.
Looking Down on the People Michael Rougier Looking Down on the People Juanita Boyd, wife of the Secretary of Transportation, and Anna Chennault, a journalist and, later, a lobbyist for the Republic of China, chat on a landscaped rooftop terrace. Hair Salon for D.C.'s Elite Michael Rougier Hair Salon for D.C.'s Elite LIFE's story ticked off the lavish amenities (such as this pink in-house hair salon) and gleefully reveled in the building's discontents: "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 Building with Bite Michael Rougier A Building with Bite "A toothy structure," is how LIFE described the building. But the architectural assassination didn't stop there, with LIFE describing Watergate's facades as being "studded with crenelated panels reminding observers of dragon's teeth, milk bottles or bowling pins." Making Architectural Waves Michael Rougier Making Architectural Waves While some admired the views, LIFE slyly let slip that many apartments offer "a commanding view of the Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge." Players Michael Rougier Players Martha Beall Mitchell, wife of Nixon's Attorney General, John Mitchell, and their daughter, gather round a piano during a party at their apartment. John Mitchell, of course, later spent 19 months in prison for his role in the Watergate break-in and cover-up. The Hostess Michael Rougier The Hostess Anna Chennault, the journalist who later turned lobbyist, greets guests in her Watergate apartment for a 13-course dinner which she prepared herself. In the Study Michael Rougier In the Study Here, Nixon's Secretary of Transportation, John Volpe, works in the study of his three-bedroom penthouse. "One problem is the earsplitting noise of jets landing at National Airport," LIFE wrote, then wryly added, "Volpe hopes to get it reduced soon." Working Out in Watergate Michael Rougier Working Out in Watergate These days, gyms are de rigueur for upscale apartments. But in the late '60s, this rowing machine and stationary bike were kind of a big deal and considered one of Watergate's splashy amenities. Who's the Fairest One of All? Michael Rougier Who's the Fairest One of All? Attorney General John Mitchell, appointed by President Nixon to lead the Department of Justice, is reflected in this baroque mirror, along with his wife, Martha. Mitchell described his $140,000 duplex to LIFE with these terse words: "convenient but that's about all." A Spy Among Them Michael Rougier A Spy Among Them Michael Rougier, LIFE's photographer, managed to catch up with interesting characters who lived in the complex. He photographed Walter Pfortzheimer (above) who not only served on the Watergate complex's board of directors, but was also a CIA official. Pfortzheimer, LIFE reported, kept "a signed photograph of Mata Hari in the well-fortified duplex he maintains for his collection of 3,000 spy books. He sleeps in an efficiency apartment elsewhere in the building." Cooling Off Michael Rougier Cooling Off Another resident was Jacob Javits. Javits, who served both in the Congress and the Senate, and who now has a massive convention center in New York City named after him, is pictured here, swan-diving into the pool at Watergate West, where the New York senator had recently purchased a $70,000 two-bedroom apartment. The High and Mighty Michael Rougier The High and Mighty The Watergate scandal — which began as a break-in and an attempt to install eavesdropping equipment in the offices of the Democratic National Committee within the Watergate complex — eventually resulted in seven members of President Nixon's inner circle going to jail. And, of course, Nixon resigned the presidency. Today, the Watergate complex — including the swank, 336-room Watergate Hotel, which re-opened in 2016 after an extensive makeover — remains a force in the Washington economy, even as the unquiet ghosts of its past haunt America's political discourse.