Go to Destination: Scandal!

Landmarks Tell Lore of Watergate

Scandal Unfolded at Many Addresses

By Karlyn Barker and Vivien Lou Chen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, June 17, 1992; Page A01

When Gary Lawrence pulled into Scenic Overlook No. 2 off the George Washington Parkway the other day, the Burke resident had no idea he was parked on a piece of Watergate history. It was the spot where burglar James W. McCord Jr. was promised executive clemency if he'd shut up and help take the fall for the break-in.

But Scott Greenhill, an unrepentant Watergate buff from San Francisco, knew all about Room 723 at the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge and called a dozen times before landing a reservation this week in what was the listening post for the "bugged" conversations of Democrats across the street.

From the offices where the break-in occurred 20 years ago today to the country clubs that had supporting roles to the apartment house where reporter Bob Woodward moved a potted plant to signal "Deep Throat," Washington and its suburbs are awash in notorious and little-known landmarks that tell the story of Watergate.

"We're aware that history was made in this suite," said Barbara Lentz, whose company occupies the portion of the Watergate complex where McCord and four other mysterious intruders were discovered under a secretary's desk inside the Democratic National Committee's sixth-floor headquarters.

Curious individuals and entire tour groups still show up and want to take pictures of the secretary's cubicle where the burglars were found and arrested. Lentz, treasurer and administrative manager for Urenco Inc., a nuclear energy marketing company, wants people to know that the offices were remodeled years ago and that the secretary's cubicle is now an open work space.

She wants people to know something else too: You can't just drop by for a look-see. "We do try to run a business here," she said.

For the people who work or reside at these landmark addresses, Watergate is living history. And some day, the buildings themselves may receive official recognition -- and a plaque or two.

"Normally that doesn't happen for 50 years," said Barry Mackintosh, a historian for the National Park Service. "We're still a little early, but I suspect . . . the office building and the Howard Johnson would get the obvious first consideration."

Clifton E. McCann, whose law firm, Lane, Aitken & McCann, is in another part of the old DNC headquarters, said there used to be a plaque near the sixth-floor stairwell commemorating the event. But it was stolen years ago.

Scandal Tours already includes the Watergate complex and the Howard Johnson's motel on its bus tour of notorious landmarks in the nation's capital, right along with the spot where stripper Fanne Foxe jumped into the Tidal Basin and the Capitol Hill town house where presidential hopeful Gary Hart entertained Donna Rice.

Media attention surrounding the 20th anniversary of the break-in has put the spotlight on some lesser-known Watergate landmarks. At 9702 Montauk Ave. in Bethesda, for example, Cathy Woody was surprised when CBS producers asked her about using her tiny two-bedroom home to shoot a scene involving a previous owner: Judy Hoback.

It was Hoback, bookkeeper for the Committee for the Re-Election of the President, who first told investigators -- and later Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Woodward -- about the campaign money disbursed to G. Gordon Liddy, the ex-FBI agent who planned the botched burglary.

"I was kind of thrilled when CBS called," said Woody, an oceanographer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "I said, 'Ooh, I have a star for a house.' "

Woody said she met Hoback when CBS flew the bookkeeper from her home in Florida to Washington and used her former house as a backdrop for telling how a reluctant Hoback finally agreed to talk to the persistent Bernstein. As depicted in the "Woodstein" book, "All the President's Men," and later in a movie of the same name, she nervously answered his questions in her living room while Bernstein prolonged his stay by asking for more and more cups of coffee.

"When you live an ordinary life, it's exciting to have something like that walk through . . . to be a little part of history, even if it's a scandalous history," Woody said. She said she voted for Nixon, but then became "disgusted" with the lies he told to cover up the break-in and other illegal activities.

"If he had come out and said what he had done, I think the public would have accepted that more," Woody said.

Few remember that Frank Wills, the security guard who called police after finding tape on the stairwell doors at the Watergate, lived at 1315 22nd St. NW. It was a rooming house then, and Wills lived upstairs. Today it's a fashionable town house, rented by three friends who were children when the Watergate scandal unfolded and who had no idea of the house's link to Watergate history.

"I remember my parents and grandparents just glued to the TV," said Ed Ryan, 24, who was reared in Philadelphia and works for a painting franchise here.

Ryan, who studied Watergate in college, said he doesn't think what Nixon did was all that bad, especially compared with Ronald Reagan and the Iran-contra scandal. Nixon "just tried to cover up a few things," he said. "Look at Reagan. Everybody liked him so much they overlooked it."

Perhaps the most obscure Watergate landmark is the parking lot at the Key Bridge Marriott, where White House aide Alexander Butterfield innocently turned over $350,000 in excess campaign cash for safekeeping to one of his neighbors. The cash, all in $50 and $100 bills, was later retrieved on orders from the White House, and some of it was used to buy the silence of the burglars.

Butterfield later told Senate investigators about the White House taping system, an explosive disclosure that ultimately led to Nixon's resignation.

Better-known landmarks in Watergate lore: Room 214 at the Watergate Hotel, where police recovered address books linking the burglars to Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, a former White House consultant who helped plan the burglary.

Also, the Burning Tree Club in Bethesda, where Liddy rushed to find Attorney General Richard Kleindienst and tried to get him to order the release of the burglars before McCord's connection to the reelection committee became known. Kleindienst refused.

At the Webster House, 1718 P St. NW, Interior Department employee Renee Schwager and many other residents know that Woodward used to rent an efficiency there in the days before the building went condo. Except nobody -- not even Woodward -- remembers the exact apartment where he would put his potted plant, the one with the red flag stuck in it, out on the balcony whenever he needed to contact his famous source.

"606 or 608 or 612, something like that," Woodward said recently.

"I always felt that 'Deep Throat' may have lived in one of those buildings," said Schwager, pointing to the Boston House and Brunswick House Apartments that can be seen from the back of Woodward's former building.

Schwager always thought that Woodward lived in apartment 519 because, she said, that was the one used in filming the Watergate movie.

For the record, Bernstein lived on the top floor of the Biltmore apartments in Adams-Morgan.

But for Greenhill, in town on business, nothing matches the history of Room 723 at the Howard Johnson's, where Alfred C. Baldwin monitored the "bugged" phone of a DNC official and watched the burglars' arrests that night. Booking the $72-to-$80-a-night room wasn't easy, but Greenhill, 34, who watched every day of the Watergate hearings for his high school government class, is glad he got it when he did.

"I wanted the room on the anniversary," he said gleefully.

Staff writer Charles W. Hall contributed to this report.

© The Washington Post Co.

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