The Watergate: 35 Years of Notoriety The Watergate Complex was considered the height of urban luxury when it opened 40 years ago. But it gained notoriety when political operatives broke into the Democratic National Committee's offices in the building in 1972. June 17 marks the 35th anniversary of the infamous break-in.

The Watergate: 35 Years of Notoriety

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Alex Cohen.

In a few minutes, a son comes to terms with his dad's checkered past in a different of Father's Day story. But first...

(Soundbite of "CBS Evening News")

Mr. WALTER CRONKITE (News Anchor): Illegal bugging apparently was one aim of a team which broke into the Democratic National Headquarters in Washington during the weekend.

COHEN: Walter Cronkite reporting on the 1972 break-in at the Watergate office complex. That little break-in, of course, led to the demise of a president. It happened 35 years ago this weekend.

BRAND: But before the Watergate become synonymous with scandal, it was known for cutting-edge luxury living.

NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates has this report.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Back in 1965, a set of curvy buildings rose up on an oddly shaped chunk of waterfront property in Washington, D.C. There hadn't been much there before except a homey little restaurant called the Watergate Inn and another establishment.

Mr. HENRY WINSTON (Former President, Watergate Development): In the early days, at the end of the street there was a horse stable.

BATES: Henry Winston is a veteran Washington realtor and the original leasing agent for the Watergate complex. In fact, it was he who leased Suite 610 to the Democratic National Committee. His firm, Winston & Winston, still handles the vast majority of Watergate properties. Initially, Mr. Winston says, people were drawn to the poured concrete buildings ringed with balconies because even though there wasn't much in the neighborhood, the Watergate complex was close to everything.

Mr. WINSTON: Of course the ease to get to different places is very big. People going into the airport just love it.

BATES: Sally Quinn is a Washington Post reporter and Newsweek columnist and a former Watergate resident. She says the mixed-use complex offered an unprecedented lifestyle for D.C.'s well-heeled urbanites.

Ms. SALLY QUINN (Reporter): There were lots of apartment buildings but they were all these very old pre-war, high ceiling, you know, like New York-style apartment buildings. And so this was a completely new kind of way of living for people in this city.

BATES: In addition to the offices and luxury apartments, the first floors of the complex housed several businesses and chic boutiques. At the Watergate, you could buy groceries for your dinner party, purchase a dress to wear that night from Gucci or Yves Saint-Laurent, have your hair done, and never leave the building.

Henry Winston's wife, Tina, says from the beginning, the Watergate apartment housed a lot of Washington's elite, from powerhouse politicians to the owner of the Washington Redskins.

Ms. TINA WINSTON (Wife of Henry Winston): John Warner, Ed Brooks, Jacob Javits, Jack Cancook(ph), Senator Dole and his wife, Elizabeth.

BATES: Bob Dole moved into the complex in 1972. He was the junior senator from Kansas and newly divorced from his first wife. Though Dole was considered an eligible bachelor, most of his time would be taken up with the Watergate hearings that started a year later.

One of Dole's neighbors back then was Sally Quinn. She lived in the Watergate with Ben Bradley, the legendary editor of the Washington Post. The couple often ran into Dole and his dates. Quinn is now Mrs. Bradley. She recalls that the senator was always friendly when they saw him. Even though they knew he was unhappy with the Post's reporting on the growing scandal.

Ms. QUINN: He would ride up and down the elevator - Hi Bob, hi Ben, hi Leslie, hi Sally, and then, you know, then we'd go inside and turn on the TV and there would be Bob Dole saying that Washington Post is a bunch of traitors and...

BATES: After the break-in, the name Watergate morphed from a prestigious address to shorthand for all kinds of political scandals in the following years. Sally Quinn.

Ms. QUINN: Now, I mean, everything is called something gate, you know, whether it was Monicagate or whatever. It's become part of our language.

BATES: Ironically, there is a Watergate connection with the intern whose sexcapade with Bill Clinton led to the only presidential impeachment in modern history. Monica Lewinsky hid out in her mother's Watergate apartment next door to the Doles, while the press pursued her. Here she's trying to have dinner out.

(Soundbite of reporters)

BATES: Lewinsky often used a network of connecting corridors to slip out of the building's back door or down to the garage to avoid scenes like that. Despite the scandals of both political parties through the years, the Watergate's cache has remained constant. Tina Winston says one thing has changed since the '70s though - the balcony views of the Virginia skyline.

Ms. WINSTON: Of course when it was built at the beginning, there were very few buildings. Now if you look at night, it looks like a small Manhattan.

BATES: From the sidewalk, looking at the Watergate in bright daylight, you'll see a series of buildings that resemble a lot of middle-aged people, still striking from a distance, a little faded up-close, with a complicated history that continues to intrigue.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.