Everyone knows where the president lives. But few know that the vice president also has an official residence.
Historically the office of vice president was rather unimportant. John Nance Gardner of Texas, known as Cactus Jack, who gave up the powerful position of Speaker of the House to be VP said the office “wasn’t worth a pitcher of warm spit.”
Most VPs were selected with a view toward winning the election. And since they had few responsibilities there really wasn’t much effort made in protecting them. All Harry Truman received as far as security goes was a Senate car and driver to take him to and from work each day.
But two things changed the view of the vice presidency. First was the assassination of JFK. The second was Jimmy Carter’s selection of Walter Mondale, someone who would act as a governing partner. All of a sudden, the vice presidency was an important job. So, keeping the VP safe became important.
Previously, the Secret Service would secure the VP’s existing home. But this became so expensive that in 1974 Congress passed a law creating an official residence for VPs. And this couldn’t have happened soon enough because in the mid-70s we were going through a lot of them – Agnew, Ford, Rockefeller, Mondale.
So, the government looked for a permanent home for Veeps. They selected a house on the grounds of US Naval Observatory in northwest Washington. It was constructed in 1893 to be the home of the observatory’s superintendent. But the Chief of Naval Operations liked the house so much that he took it over in 1924 and it remained the Chief’s official residence until the first vice president moved in 1977.
The house, known by its address One Observatory Circle, is made out of red brick in the Queen Ann style. When red brick fell out of fashion it was painted white. It’s about 9000 square feet. The first floor has a reception hall, dining and a living room, sitting rooms, and a wonderful wrap around veranda. On the second floor are 2 bedrooms, with 4 small bedrooms on the third floor.
The dining room in One Observatory Circle
The house has undergone numerous renovations based on the needs of its new residents. Most reservations are made possible through private donations. Vice President Quayle added an outdoor swimming pool, leading then Vice President Biden to call Quale his favorite VP.
Vice President Harris and Mr. Emhoff will no doubt leave their mark on the house. Unfortunately, the house is not open for public tours.
The One Observatory Circle is one of many fascinating sites along Embassy Row, Washington’s most elegant thoroughfare and is part of my Divinity and Diplomats tour.