Just a few more shots of the fountains at the Watergate apartment complex. Today, it sits in a prestigious location with beautiful river views. It was sited on former industrial land – it sits now where the Washington Gas Light plant used to be, and next door, where the Kennedy Center now sits, was a brewery. The complex was designed in part to harmonize with the Kennedy Center, which was originally envisioned to be curvilinear and organic. Later, due to construction costs, it was redesigned into the sharp-edged rectangle that it is today.
There is debate over the origin of the name Watergate – there are multiple possible referents. Part of the land the complex was built on belonged to the C&O Canal, and overlooks the water gate that marks the eastern terminus of the canal and where its water rejoined the Potomac. A second candidate is the “water gate” from the Potomac to the Tidal Basin that regulates the flow of water into the basin at high tide. The third candidate is the steps down to the Potomac from the Lincoln Memorial beside Memorial Bridge, which was used from the 1930s to the 1960s as an outdoor concert venue, with performers located on a barge in the river. Concerts ended in 1965 with the advent of jet aircraft service into National Airport. I vote for the C&O Canal as the source of the name – the other two features are obscured from view of the complex by the Kennedy Center and the natural curve of the river.
The fountains in the complex were specifically designed to create not only a visually pleasing effect, but to also simulate the sound of a natural waterfall.
I don’t know how successful the auditory engineering was (the fountains are pretty quiet, and they sound like fountains to me), but they certainly do create a visually pleasing space as well as a moderating effect on the temperature around the courtyard.
The Watergate complex was the first mixed-use development in the District. It had shops, restaurants, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, commercial office space, and even a hotel, in addition to luxury condominium residences. As originally planned, it was even supposed to have 19 “villas” (read townhouses), be 16 stories tall, and in all occupy 1.9 million square feet. After wrangling with codes, design commissions, and budgetary constraints, it was reduced in height to today’s 13 stories, the villas were eliminated, and the total square footage was cut back to 1.7 million square feet.