1. Who Had the Outdoor Swimming Pool Built?
President Gerald Ford was quite athletic and an avid swimmer. In 1975 an inground outdoor swimming pool was built on the White House grounds, near the tennis courts. President Ford tried to make swimming a daily habit, and even conducted press conferences while swimming laps in the pool. Ford's son Jack took scuba diving lessons in the pool; while later, young Amy Carter perfected her diving technique when her father, Jimmy Carter, was in office.
To make the White House more efficient, in 2002, the outdoor swimming pool cabana was renovated - more windows were added, the roof was raised, and a solar array was installed on the roof. The solar thermal array uses water heated in pipes by the sun and provides hot water to the cabana. Two of the systems deliver thermal energy for hot water and pool and hot tub heating and one produces electricity directly from the sun with photovoltaics.
3. Party Like It's 1829In simpler times, presidents would often open up the White House for public tours and receptions, where they would personally greet well-wishers on occasions like New Year's Day, the Fourth of July and the Inaugural. When a crowd of "callers" on President Andrew Jackson's Inauguration Day in 1829 swelled to 20,000, the leader had to make a quick exit to a local hotel. To appease the throngs, White House staff reportedly lured them out to the lawn by filling washtubs filled with oranges (perhaps from the Orangery? See No. 13) and whiskey. While the revelers celebrated with their makeshift cocktails on the lawn, staff closed the doors and cleaned up the muddy floors of the White House.
4. The Mystery of the Swimming Pool Beneath the Press RoomPresident Franklin D. Roosevelt had an indoor swimming pool built at the White House as therapy for his polio. President Nixon had it covered over to turn it into a press room. In July 2007, the basement that still has the intact pool walls was redesigned, along with the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room above it to accommodate all the wires and cables for the electronic press. A trap door was replaced with a staircase that leads down to the basement.
The tile sides of the FDR pool remain as part of the walls of the basement and have been signed by the press, celebrities, dignitaries and of course, members of the administration. Famous signatures include Bono, Sugar Ray Leonard and former First Lady Laura Bush.
In August 2008, the then-wildly popular boy band the Jonas Brothers showed up at the White House to attend a press conference about diabetes and record a public service announcement about National Parks. The teen idols, Nick (a diabetes patient), Joe and Kevin Jonas, left a permanent memento at the White House by autographing the abovementioned wall of the swimming pool that's below the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room.
"There's other names up there that are just astounding, some of our favorite artists and politicians," Joe Jonas told CNN. "But it's going to be really cool to see that in 10 years, 20 years from now."
Wonder if Joe Jonas checked out his signature when he and his brothers stopped by the White House on Inauguration Night in January of 2009? To refresh your memory, the Jonases performed a few of their hit songs at a welcome-to-the-White House slumber party for Sasha and Malia Obama and friends.
6. Oval Office Terrace
On the south side of the West Wing, just outside the Oval Office, is a patio that's actually a large, multilevel terrace. Weather permitting, the president can enjoy having lunch on the terrace or conduct meetings with staff, or invited guests.
7. Which President Swam Naked?
Andrew Jackson - the president who had the Orangery built and whose inaugural reception became a bacchanal on the lawn - apparently enjoyed early-morning swims au natural in the nearby Potomac River, followed by some weeding and digging around in the White House gardens.
If he'd had an inground swimming pool built on the White House grounds, it would have saved him the jaunt down to the chilly waters of the Potomac. On the other hand, skinny-dipping may have been just what he needed to kick-off his day. Do you suppose he ever gathered a crowd during those early-morning dips?
8. Hot Tubbin' at the White House
"Every once in a while, there may be a photo taken in that product, and it may be a good thing for our business," Watkins president Steve Hammock told The Times. Hammock was pleased that the White House would use the tub, because Watkins had donated a hot tub during the Reagan years. "I don't know where that one ended up," he said.
9. Walls of Stone
While there have been many changes throughout the years, the exterior stone walls are the same ones that were built under the leadership of President Thomas Jefferson, who was involved in the design and planning of many improvements to the White House exterior and grounds starting in 1801. Whatever the "recipe" was for stone and mortar is obviously a resilient one - maybe something that could be shared with stone masons or serious do-it-yourselfers today.
10. Wait - Another President Swam in the Raw?
In presidential lore, it's often mentioned that John Quincy Adams - not Andrew Jackson - swam in the nude. Well, Adams did too t not intentionally.
According to a passage in Adams' diary, on June 18, 1825, he and an aide went for a canoe ride in Tiber Creek, near the Potomac. The canoe became waterlogged, and the two bailed and swam for shore. Their clothing was weighed down by the unexpected soak, so Adams stripped off his duds and gave them to his aide, who then went to get help. In the meantime, Adams' son went swimming in the Tiber in search of his dad. When they met up, both went swimming and sat "...naked basking on the bank" until the aide returned with a carriage. Adams was simply thankful that "no injury befell our persons."