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White House Trivia: 20 Fun Facts About the Outdoor Areas in the President's Park

Swimming Pools, Hot Tubs, Patios, Secret Retreats & Other Outside Spaces

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We've heard interesting facts and trivia about the presidents, their families, and the White House. But what about the White House grounds, or more specifically, the swimming pools, patios, porches, secret retreats, outdoor furniture and other features we may not know about? Enjoy these 20 bits of information about the White House landscape, past and present.

1. Who Had the Outdoor Swimming Pool Built?

gerald ford in white house swimming pool
National Archives / Ford Library Collection

President Gerald Ford was quite athletic and an avid swimmer. In 1975 an in-ground 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.

2. It's Solar, Baby

solar roof white house
Photo Courtesy of Solar Design Associates

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. The Mystery of the Swimming Pool Beneath the Press Room

President 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.

4. Oval Office Terrace

White House
Uyen Le/Photodisc/Getty Images

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.

5. Which President Swam Naked?

Library of Congress

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 in- ground 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?

6. Hot Tubbin' at the White House

grandee hot tub used at the white house
Grandee Photo Courtesy of Hot Spring® Portable Spas
In 1997, during the Clinton administration, an outdoor spa was installed next to the inground swimming pool. As reported in The New York Times, the above-ground tub, the "Grandee" model by the Watkins Manufacturing Corporation, had seven seats, held 500 gallons of water and had 25 adjustable jets. The hot tub was donated by Watkins as a gift and, as is routine, was processed through the National Park Service.

 

"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.

7. Playtime at the White House

rooseveltdallsplay.JPG
Library of Congress
  • With frequent visits from their 13 grandchildren, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had swings, sandboxes and slides built on the South Lawn.
  • In 1961, a swing set/jungle gym was installed on the west side of the South Lawn for Caroline and John F. Kennedy, Jr.
  • When the Obamas moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 2008, First Daughters Malia and Sasha were thrilled to receive their first-ever swing set, situated on the lawn at edge of the Rose Garden, within view of the Oval Office.

8. Wait - Another President Swam in the Raw?

johnquincyadams.JPG
Getty Images

In presidential lore, it's often mentioned that John Quincy Adams - not Andrew Jackson - swam in the nude. Well, Adams did too, but not intentionally.

According to a passage in Adams' diary, on June 18, 1825, he and an aide went for a canoe ride in nearby 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."

9. Important Dates

White House Photo / Samantha Appleton
  • 1824: South Portico is completed
  • 1829: North Portico is completed
  • 1833: Running water is installed
  • 1848: Natural gas lighting installed
  • 1891: Electric lighting installed
  • 1902: West Wing constructed
  • 1909: Oval Office (off the West Wing) built
  • 1913: Rose garden created
  • 1933: Indoor swimming pool built
  • 1975: Outdoor inground swimming pool built
  • 1989: A horseshoe pitch is created beside the outdoor swimming pool. It's removed in 1993, then rebuilt in 2001.
  • 1991: A basketball half-court is built on the South Grounds
  • 1993: A jogging track is installed
  • 2009: The White House Kitchen Garden is created

10. The Jonas Brothers Did What on the Pool Wall?

jonas brothers white house pool
Photo by Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images

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.

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