The Infamous Watergate Hotel Gets A $125 Million Gilded Makeover

British-Israeli designer Ron Arad renovated the legendary D.C. hotel.

In the 1970s, the Watergate scandal crippled then-president Richard Nixon. On orders from his administration, the Democratic National Committee–headquartered in the Watergate Complex–was burglarized and wiretapped in 1972. Now, after over 40 years of tumultuous history including a handful of renovations and a closure in the 2000s, it’s getting the facelift it deserves.

Sean Pavone via Shutterstock

Designed by architect Luigi Moretti just a few years before the scandal, the Watergate Complex consisted of offices, residences, and a hotel spread across five different structures. Located in D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, right on the Potomac River, the complex was completed in 1971 and was one of the first mixed-use projects in the city. Despite initial backlash on the building’s modern design and raised eyebrows over the fact that the Vatican owned part of Societa Generale Immobiliare (the real estate development company behind the complex), the Watergate Complex became one of the most prestigious addresses in the capital.

The Watergate Hotel, Gerald Martineau/The Washington Post/Getty Images

The hotel opened in 1967 and was known as a place where high-powered politicians and celebrities would flock to. But all that was eclipsed by the Watergate scandal. Though the offices in an adjacent building were broken into, the hotel–specifically room 214–was the home base for the burglars’ operation. In the years since, the hotel has aged somewhat ungracefully.

It was bought and sold numerous times from the ’80s onward until it closed in 2007. Euro Capital Properties purchased the property in 2010 and began its $125-million renovation spearheaded by the local architecture firm BBGM. The British-Israeli designer Ron Arad was enlisted to design the hotel’s “public” spaces–the lobby, restaurant, and bar.

The Watergate’s connection to political scandal attracted Arad to the project. “Working within such a significant period piece, you can’t ignore the context, but at the same time you don’t want to mimic it,” he said in a release. “Instead, you want to create something complementary, but most importantly, something new.” To that end, Arad looked to the curved footprint architect Luigi Moretti designed for the structure and echoed the silhouette inside. Because renovations in the ’80s and ’90s destroyed most of the original interiors, there wasn’t much worth saving in the areas the firm was redesigning, except for a central spiral staircase that they modernized with a coat of white plaster. Arad took a page from the book of Midas, using gold as a recurring motif both in the Trump Vodka-esque liquor bottles lining the bar’s walls and the metallic reception desk.

Subtle this design is not, but as the before and after images in the slide show above show, the hotel’s new look is more befitting to its legacy than what was there pre-renovation.

[All Photos (unless otherwise noted): The Watergate Hotel]


About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.