Spice of Life

My employer had an online-only scoop this afternoon with the contents of Bob Woodward’s new book, The Secret Man, The Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat. As the story explained, the book wasn’t supposed to be sold until next Wednesday, but an area bookstore accidentally sold a copy to a newspaper staffer.

Among the interesting items in the book, Woodward identified for the first time the exact locaton of the garage where he met Deep Throat — 1401 Wilson Boulevard in the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington, Va. The location was just above what now is the underground Safeway on Wilson, in the buiding the houses the Spice of Life cafe. The neighborhood had been known since Woodward’s post-revelation Post story, but he had kept back the address until now.

The tidbit isn’t of great nation interest, but it’s bound to big locally because Rosslyn has a lot of garages. It’s a cavernous stretch of Arlington, focusing on Wilson and the immediately surrounding blocks, all filled with tall buildings. The Potomac runs along one side, and the federal government owns the other — Ft. Myers on the north end, Iwo Jima Memorial directly to the side and Arlington National Cemetery on the south end. The Pentagon is just a minute’s drive further. Transportation-wise, the Key Bridge runs into the heart of the neighborood, and the Memorial Bridge is also convenient.

Located as such, Rosslyn has gained the dubious honor of having the closest office space to downtown Washington without the capital’s restrictions on building height. Washington law keeps buildings to about 13 stories — the relative heights of the Capitol and Washington Monument — but Arlington County has let much of Rosslyn grow to 20 or 30 stories. (USA TODAY/Gannett’s former offices are the latter. See the right side of this aerial photo.)

As these buildings — both office and apartment — have gone up over the decades, there’s been arguably little attention paid to the ground levels. Despite a street-life boom in the last few years, front desks likely still outnumber street retail and dining. The sky-high offices win the neighborhood, even with a few hotels around. I live a few blocks north of Rosslyn and regularly drive through early in the morning. When I do, the only person I usually see is the newspaper delivery man.

The emptiness now is moderately surprising for a place so close to a major city, but imagining the situation 20-plus years earlier sets up the Deep Throat meetings well. A Washington Business Journal story points out how most of these tall buildings rose in the 1960s and early 1970s. In that time period, at that hour of the day, the Rosslyn garages would have been the deserted. The passing car that scared off one Woodward-Felt meeting would have been shocking.

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