Number One Observatory Circle on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory is the traditional home for veeps.
Ask most people where the president lives and they’ll tell you, “the White House.” Ask them where the vice president lives and the answer is much less certain.
Even though it might not have the same ring to it as 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, One Naval Observatory (located on the grounds of the 72-acre U.S. Naval Observatory) has been the official home to every vice president since Walter Mondale) in 1977.
When Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff move into Number One Observatory Circle, they will be only the eighth vice-presidential family in American history to do so. They’re currently staying at Blair House, the President's Guest House, while they’re soon-to-be new home undergoes maintenance.
Before it housed American vice presidents, Number One Observatory Circle first served as a home for U.S. Naval Observatory superintendents. The US Naval Observatory is one of the oldest scientific agencies in the country. Twelve superintendents lived in the home which was then known as "The Superintendent's House."
The 33-room Victorian-style property was built in 1893 for $20,000 (equivalent to $569,111 in 2019) by Washington resident and architect Leon E. Dessez, who had a hand in creating plans for the Washington Monument. the home sits on 12 of the 72 acres of land that comprise the U.S. Naval Observatory. It boasts three floors, six bedrooms, a wraparound porch, sun room, and, according to rumors, an underground bunker.
In 1966, the House Public Works Committee approved the construction of a three-story vice house at the Naval Observatory, but a month later President Johnson put a halt to it until the economy improved after the Vietnam war. But for one reason or another, construction never restarted.
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 in 1974, 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, but no one moved in for three years. According to the White House, this is because "Vice President Gerald Ford acceded to the Presidency before he could use the home, and his Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller, only used it for entertaining."
Prior to 1974, vice presidents lived in their own homes, and those who did not own properties in or around Washington were put up in hotels.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.
In addition to Mondale, George H.W. Bush, Dan Quayle, Al Gore, Dick Cheney, Joe Biden and Mike Pence have all called Number One Observatory Circle their home during their vice presidency — each bringing their own unique changes and additions to the residence. George H.W. Bush, added a horseshoe pit and a quarter-mile-long running track, and Dan Quayle added: an exercise room on the top floor, and a pool out back— a feature then vice president Joe Biden’s grandchildren loved.
In 2012, Joe and Jill Biden created the Family Heritage Garden of the Vice President, located just off the front lawn. Stone pavers surrounding a fountain commemorate all of the vice-presidential family members (including kids and pets!) that have ever called Number One Observatory Circle home. They also made one very sweet addition: a commemorative plaque reading "Joe Loves Jill" affixed to a tall tree in the backyard, which still hangs there today. Awww! According to the Washington Post, the Pence family added a beehive in 2017. A nod to their home state of Indiana, they also put a "Hoosiers" logo on the basketball court — making sure it was removable for the next resident.
It will be particularly interesting to see Doug Emhoff take on a role that has traditionally involved a lot of hosting and decorating for the holidays, among others. Of course, there’s no word what, if any, renovations VP Harris and her family will make to the residence, but since she’s such a big foodie, we’re imagining a fancy Nancy Myers-esque kitchen she can do more tutorials showing how to rustle up that perfect tuna melt or making masala dosa; one cannot separate Kamala from her food.
The vice presidential residence does not offer public tours, but the interiors have been photographed over the years for various publications and during events, like visits from foreign dignitaries.
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