Watergate '69

The term "Watergate" has become such a venerable metaphor for deep-rooted institutional corruption that it's easy to lose sight of the fact that prior to the events of June 17, 1972 the Watergate was Washington, D.C.'s most gleaming and celebrated new structure, a mixed-use complex occupied by some of the city's wealthiest and most powerful figures and institutions.

The curvilinear, six-building complex, consisting of apartments, offices, a hotel and shopping center, was intended to draw the deep-pocketed culprits of D.C.'s "white flight" back into the city. Its units opened gradually between 1966 and 1971, the final pieces unveiled just in time to host the opening salvo of the undoing of a presidency.

The Watergate's principal architect, the Modernist Luigi Moretti, had risen to prominence on the back of his many buildings for Mussolini's Fascist Party in his native Italy. Moretti's plans for the Watergate, which would be his sole U.S. project, were so complex that construction engineers implemented one of the first uses of computer-aided design in its behalf.

In its issue of August 8, 1969 the Watergate was celebrated with an eight-page spread in that most reliable of Establishment America's mouthpieces, Henry Luce's Life magazine. Given the benefit of hindsight, the story is so abundant with ironies that were I to start pointing them out it would be a distraction from the readability of this reconstruction. Anyway the Internet is already heavy with pages detailing every facet of Watergate history, up to the complex's recent designation as an historic landmark.

The one link I will provide, simply because it is not as easy to find as the usual postmortem account, is the Washington Post's reprinting of its original coverage of the actual break-in (with Woodward and Bernstein just two among eight names listed at the bottom as additional contributors to Alfred E. Lewis's piece), with their one nod to hindsight (not counting a correction to the spelling of one of the burglars' names) being a photo of the original rifled file cabinet of the Democratic National Committee's offices.

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