Washington, D.C. – October 3, 2010
I came to Arlington for in-service training for all Department of State facility managers from around the world. The base of operations was the Hyatt Regency Crystal City. From my window, I could see three styles of mass transportation; the Metro, the Reagan National Airport, and the Potomac River.
The most exciting highlight of this visit to the DC area was my private tour of the West Wing of the White House. It is a very exclusive tour. The only way one can get the tour is if one knows someone that works with the White House. It just so happens that I met a person while I was working on the visit of Vice President Joe Biden to Madrid a few months ago. Once I found out I was going to be in the DC area, I called him and made the necessary arrangements.
The first thing we did was tour the Eisenhower Office Building (EOB). That is the building in which my friend (the reason I was able to get this tour) works. Of the areas we saw, I found it to be a well preserved and well taken care of building.
Originally constructed for the Department of State, Department of War, and the Department of the Navy, the EOB dates from 1871 to 1888.
After going through the EOB, we walked across the parking lot to the lower entrance to the West Wing. Prior to coming, my friend had sent me a tour sheet that had some very interesting information. I will include some of those items here.
The White House is the oldest public building in Washington. The site was selected by President George Washington.
In 1792 a design competition was held for the President’s house. James Hoban won and was commissioned to build a home and office for the President of the United States. Construction began October 13, 1792. In November, 1800, President John Adams (second President) and his wife, Abigail, became the first residents.
It burned to a charred ruin during the War of 1812, and the President’s house became an object of shame and wonder. Talk spread of moving the capital inland with a suggestion to go as far as Cincinnati, Ohio. But Andrew Jackson’s victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans restored national pride and the idea of rebuilding the nation’s capital became symbolic of triumph. Rebuilding began in 1815. Hoban was hired to rebuild the mansion. In 1817, President Monroe moved in.
One of Theodore Roosevelt’s earliest acts as President was to issue an order establishing the “White House” as the building’s official name by having it engraved on official stationery. Previously it had been called the President’s house or the Executive mansion.
The residence has 132 rooms, including 16 family-guest rooms, five kitchens, and 35 bathrooms. The floor area of the residence (total of six floors) is approximately 100,000 square feet.
The White House fence encloses 18 acres of land.
Presidential staff worked on the second floor of the White House in what is now the Executive Residence until Theodore Roosevelt became President. He came to the White House with six children and felt that the second floor was not big enough for both his family and the office area.
In 1902, Congress appropriated $65,000 for construction of a temporary, one-story office building just west of the White House.
The West Wing was doubled in size in 1909 for President William Howard Taft. At that time, the Oval Office was created.
In 1934, a third major rebuilding occurred under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The West Wing was expanded to the east, relocating the Oval Office, and a second floor was added.
One of the first places we saw on the tour was the White House Mess. It was established in June, 1951. It is operated by the U. S. Navy. On display outside the door to the Executive Dining room is the mess gong from the USS Constitution.
We were able to look into the dining room used by commissioned officers by reservation only. All of the plates had a large Seal of the President of the United States on them.
Nearby is the situation room. We were not allowed to see inside that room. It was established in 1962 after the Bay of Pigs crisis. It is directly linked to communication channels of the Department of State, Department of Defense and the CIA.
We were then taken outside to the west colonnade. The President walks that colonnade to his office when he is in town. The colonnade runs alongside the Rose Garden. It was interesting to see the actual site that is seen on the news so often.
We went back inside and saw the Cabinet Room. As we got there, my friend pointed out that the door to the Oval Office was closed. He thought that was odd because everyone was at Camp David, including the President. That was disappointing. Regardless, the Cabinet Room was neat to see. This is the room the President uses to meet with his Cabinet, the National Security Council, members of Congress, and Heads of State. Each Cabinet member is assigned a chair positioned at the table according to the date the Department was established. The President occupies the taller chair at the center of the east side of the table. The Vice President sits opposite the President. The Secretary of State, ranking first among the Department Heads, sits on the President’s right. The Secretary of the Treasury, ranking second, sits to the Vice President’s right. The Secretary of Defense (third) sits to the President’s left, and the Attorney General (fourth) sits to the Vice President’s left. When Cabinet members conclude their terms of service, they are permitted to purchase their Cabinet chairs, which bear brass plates indicating their Cabinet position(s) and dates of service.
When we left the Cabinet Room we walked toward the Oval Office. The door was still closed. Across from the Oval Office is the Roosevelt Room. It was the President’s office until the Oval Office was built in 1909.
We left that area and went down a hallway where there are four Norman Rockwell paintings. While we were there, one of the Secret Service officers came to us and told us the Oval Office was now open. So we went back. For me, this was definitely the highlight of the tour. One of the main items to see is the Resolute Desk. It was made from timbers of the HMS Resolute. That was a British Navy ship that had been trapped in Arctic ice, retrieved and refitted by the U.S. and returned to the Queen of England as a gift to Her Majesty’s Navy and a token of friendship and goodwill in 1855. When the ship was retired, Queen Victoria commissioned the desk and presented it to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880. The desk has been modified twice from the original 1880 version. President Franklin D. Roosevelt requested that the knee-hole be fitted with a panel carved with the Presidential Coat of Arms. President Ronald Reagan requested it to be raised on a two-inch base to accommodate his 6′ 2″ frame. On the vanity panel requested by FDR, the eagle faces left toward the arrows. In 1945, President Truman signed an Executive Order requiring the eagle on all future seals should face the olive branch.
Lastly, we went into the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room. That was cool to actually see where the press is when they ask their questions.