Book examines story behind lesser known executive residence
WASHINGTON (AP) — Ask most Americans where the president lives and they’ll tell you, “the White House.” Ask them where the vice president lives and the answer may not carry the same level of confidence.
“I got, ‘The West Wing;’ I got, ‘The basement of the White House;’ I got, ‘I don’t know;’ I got, ‘Is this a trick question?’” said historian Charles Denyer, who tested the public’s knowledge on the vice president’s residence before the publication of his book, “Number One Observatory Circle: The Home of the Vice President of the United States.”
“It’s a deer-in-the-headlights look.”
Since 1977, the vice president has lived on the grounds of the 72-acre U.S. Naval Observatory, just off Massachusetts Avenue in Northwest D.C. Before then, it was anyone’s best guess.
Vice President Harry Truman lived in a small apartment at 4701 Connecticut Ave. NW in D.C.’s Van Ness neighborhood. Similarly, Vice President Spiro Agnew lived in Woodley Park’s Wardman Tower.
Hubert Humphrey resided in Chevy Chase, Maryland, during his vice presidency, and Gerald Ford remained in his Alexandria, Virginia, home after being sworn in as Richard Nixon’s vice president.
“Literally, that next day the Secret Service was busy putting in reinforced concrete on the driveway for the armored limousine to park there, all of his normal windows were replaced with bulletproof windows, and once again, the Secret Service moved in and took over his entire garage,” Denyer said.
The growing costs and concerns associated with protecting the vice president and the second family finally spurred Congress to name an official residence for the country’s second-in-command. A few weeks before resigning, President Nixon signed a law designating a 9,000-square-foot house at 1 Observatory Circle to be the home of the Vice President of the United States. Walter Mondale was the first vice president to move in.
However, 1 Observatory Circle, formerly the home to the chief of Naval operations, was only meant to be a temporary home for the country’s vice presidents until official headquarters were built. But construction never happened, and Denyer said it likely won’t. The government has invested too much money and infrastructure securing the 19th century dwelling.
“Because of that, I don’t think anyone foresees the vice president leaving any time soon. I think that is the official residence; they’ve grown accustomed to it, it’s a tradition. To move a vice president to another location would be just massive,” Denyer added.
Unlike the White House, the vice president’s house is not open to the public; only invited guests are able to tour the home. But in his book, Denyer gives readers a glimpse inside its rooms and details some of the mansion’s more memorable events — both official and private.
When Vice President Mondale was out of town, his teenage children invited friends over. Not realizing the degree of security involved when visiting, these friends jumped the fence to get to the doorbell.
“Next thing you know, they’re all spread eagle on the ground from the U.S. Secret Service. They just think they’re going over to someone’s house in Northwest D.C.,” Denyer said.
Over the years, second ladies have added personal touches to the home’s décor, and Tipper Gore spent much of her time building an electronic inventory of all the official household items passed down from administration to administration.
Dan Quayle built the home’s swimming pool — a feature Joe Biden’s grandchildren loved — while the Cheneys renovated the upstairs exercise room.
Denyer said he hopes his 260-page, photo-filled book will “shed some light on a home that not too many people know about.”
“It’s a really unique scenario, to the point that it almost became embarrassing that (we’re) the greatest power on the face of the earth and the second-in-command didn’t even have a home,” he said.
Information from: WTOP-FM, http://www.wtop.com