Two historic locations across the city lately have come back to life in the hands of designers who appreciate the past but sit squarely in the present. They vary wildly in style, but each has been brought back with cheeky flair: The Watergate Hotel’s Room 214 in Foggy Bottom, and up at Dupont Circle, the Patterson Mansion.
I’ll start with the Watergate, which I’ve become completely obsessed with lately.[Here’s my long explanation why, which you can skip if you want to get straight to the pictures!]
I’m old enough to remember my mom ranting about “The coverup!” by Nixon. I have two signed original editions of All the Presidents Men—my grandmother worked in the Washington Post Style section—across the newsroom from Woodward and Bernstein—and my parents also knew the reporters, so I’m the happy caretaker of both their copies. Also, the American Archive of Pubic Broadcasting just released the original gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Watergate hearings in 1973, which I can’t get enough of. And wouldn’t you know? Slate just came out with its own podcast about the affair, called Slow Burn. I bought a Slate Plus membership so I could also listen to the bonus episodes!
Just before these broadcasts came out, I got a press release last month about Room 214 in the newly refurbished Watergate Hotel. I had not known about Room 214 (or 314) in my store of Watergate trivia, but apparently the burglars were staying under assumed names in those rooms on the night they broke into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in the Watergate office building just across the way. I also didn’t know that the White House masterminds of the break-in, G. Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt, had hunkered down in Room 214 while the job going down.
Here’s an image of that room, which became a crime scene along with the office complex:
In this series of photographs published by ABC news, it’s pretty clear the burglars didn’t work hard to conceal where they’d been staying. Photos of their belongings seized at the DNC offices included their room keys:
Fast forward 40 years, and the developers behind the massive Watergate Hotel renovation wanted to honor Room 214’s notoriety. Fittingly, they reached out to Lyn Paolo, the costume designer for the Netflix series “Scandal,” to give a 1970’s-inflected modern spin:
Of course, it looks nothing like the original, but that’s hardly the point. It’s more of a stylized celebration of that era, with a reel-to-reel tape player, and old-time typewriter, and of course — framed newspaper clippings of Nixon’s demise.
Although this modern version is much more spiffy (at $800 per night, it ought to be), I like how the base of the desk chair is eerily similar to one from the ransacked DNC office:
Across town, the jewel of Dupont Circle has come back to life in the form of Ampeer, which houses micro-unit apartments, primarily for businesspeople in town for extended stays, or as a pied-a-terre for someone who frequents the city.
But this property, designed by Stanford White and completed in 1903 for Chicago Tribune editor Robert Patterson, has a lengthy history of grand entertaining, which started with the cotillion for Patterson’s daughter Cissy in 1904. She would go on to take over the house, where it became a social center in the late ’20s and early ’30s.
Fast forward to 2017, and the original mansion now houses Ampeer’s public gathering spaces—all designed by our own Darryl Carter, whose style is noted for modern settings punctuated with antique elements—and vice versa. The Patterson mansion was a gift to him in that respect, because its original architecture provided just the right backdrop.
As you can see when you first climb the stairs, he’s not going to take this history too seriously:
But the past definitely elevates the present.
This vignette above occupies space in what used to be the ballroom:
Here’s Darryl’s treatment—you can see that the original flooring, mantelpiece and plasterwork all remain—and it looks like he’s also preserved the sconces that flank the fireplace:
Moving on to the library…
… It looks, ahem, a bit different now, with the paneling and trim beautifully intact and lacquered:
Instead of a large tapestry along the side wall in the original image, this:
And to honor Cissy herself, Darryl had this arresting portrait made, so she will overlook the newly grand space:
From the Watergate Hotel to Ampeer across town, I think each example shows how you can take chances with daring, whimsical design as a refreshing way of celebrating history.