Senators, Cabinet secretaries and celebrities have long been drawn by the Watergate’s four swimming pools, gourmet cuisine and beautiful views. But many stayed for the banal luxury of puttering downstairs in a pair of slippers to fetch groceries.
Now, after 45 years, the supermarket is set to close at 6 p.m. Dec. 3. Some residents fear that losing the anchor tenant of the mall within the complex is the latest sign of the Watergate’s slow decline.
“It’s not the same Watergate as when I moved in. The mall is like a ghost town,” said Evelyn Y. Davis, a well-known activist shareholder in many corporations who has lived there since the 1980s. “It used to be so elegant.”
Over the summer, scores of residents signed a petition urging Safeway to keep the Watergate location open, to no avail. The store’s departure will be especially hard on elderly residents who don’t drive or who are not able to make the trek to the Trader Joe’s or the new Whole Foods Market nearby.
Safeway’s closure also worries owners of adjacent stores, who rely on foot traffic generated by the supermarket. They have been suffering since the Watergate Hotel closed for renovations in 2007 and tenants began abandoning the attached office building at 2600 Virginia Ave. NW, site of the 1972 break-in at Democratic Party headquarters that marked the beginning of the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency. The hotel has new owners but remains closed.
The Safeway was a linchpin of the Watergate’s “city within a city” concept, an idea revived in such places as Kentlands in Gaithersburg and high-rise developments such as City Vista in the District. The basic amenities of comfortable living were an elevator ride away: There was a salon, barbershop, bakery, liquor store and hair salon, as well as the supermarket.
In the 1970s, a cluster of designer boutiques, including Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino and Gucci, opened at street level. In 1979, renowned chef Jean-Louis Palladin opened Jean-Louis at the Watergate.
The complex has three apartment co-ops, two office buildings and the hotel. In its early days, the Watergate was a fishbowl for the rich and soon-to-be notorious. Even before the first tenants moved in, people paid 50 cents to tour a model apartment and gawk at the white marble floors and hand-painted oriental mural wallpaper, according to news accounts.
The wives of later-indicted Nixon Cabinet members Maurice Stans (acquitted) and John Mitchell (convicted) were featured in a 1969 Washington Post story, as were their travails with “such inevitabilities of decorating as buying wallpaper, lugging lovable old treasures from other homes, and throwing out drapes that won’t fit anywhere.”