National Press Club

The Titanic without icebergs or steerage

February 23, 2018 | By Joseph Luchok | joseph.luchok@verizon.net

Author Joseph Rodota signs a copy of his book "The Watergate: Inside America's Most Infamous Address" for Watergate resident and Club guest Aron Primack before his Headliners Book Rap.

Author Joseph Rodota signs a copy of his book "The Watergate: Inside America's Most Infamous Address" for Watergate resident and Club guest Aron Primack before his Headliners Book Rap.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

In the late 1960’s the Washington Post called The Watergate a "glittering Potomac Titanic" without icebergs or steerage, Joseph Rodota told a National Press Club Headliners Book Rap on Feb. 21. He said there was an iceberg a few years later when the Watergate break-in happened.

The Watergate: Inside America’s Most Infamous Address, is not a chronicle of the Watergate break-in but more a look at the people who lived there and how events affected them, Rodota explained. It's his attempt to make the readers feel like they are living in a Watergate apartment during the period, he said.

The book looks at The Watergate from 1948, when the Washington Gas and Light Company auctioned the land that Watergate sits on, to 2009, when the Watergate Hotel was auctioned. Rodota writes about the building plans, the problems encountered in dealing with Kennedy Center, and the controversies that arose when it became known that the Vatican was a major shareholder in the property.

The Watergate was designed to be a city within a city, according to the author. It had a grocery, a drugstore, a beauty parlor, a post office, and other stores that one would find in suburban areas. The goal was to draw people back into the city. Being a self-contained city, The Watergate offered privacy to its tenants. The break-in shattered this privacy. He pointed out that soon after the break-in, tourists flooded the area and items marked “Watergate” were taken.

When asked why he decided to write a book about The Watergate, Rodota said there are many books about the break-in but none about the building. He added that The Watergate is a unique set of buildings, unlike anything else in DC.

The book has a number of stories about The Watergate. The author said that the Democratic National Committee was on the verge of being evicted due to non-payment of rent but the owners decided to wait until after the election. He also talked about a chapter he titled “Monicaland”. With the press camping outside The Watergate in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton scandal, Lewinsky stayed inside instead of going out, and many residents did what they could to protect her. When she moved, she sent thank you notes to many residents, Rodota said.

Former Club President Myron Belkind, who lives in The Watergate, moderated the event.