Number One Observatory Circle
Number One Observatory Circle is the official residence of the Vice
President of the United States.
Located on the northeast grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory in
Washington, D.C., the house was built in 1893 for its superintendent.
Chief of Naval Operations
Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) liked the house so much that in
1923 he took over the house for himself. It remained the residence of
the CNO until 1974, when Congress authorized its transformation to an
official residence for the Vice President, though a temporary one. In
fact, by law, it is still the "official temporary residence of the
Vice President of the United States". The 1974 congressional
authorization covered the cost of refurbishment and furnishing the
Number One Observatory Circle
Number One Observatory Circle was made available to the Vice
President in 1974, three years passed before a Vice President lived
full-time in the house. Vice President
Gerald Ford became President
before he could use the house. His Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller,
primarily used the home for entertaining as he already had a
well-secured residence in Washington, D.C., though the Rockefellers
donated millions of dollars of furnishings to the house. Vice
Walter Mondale was the first Vice President to move into the
house. Every Vice President since has lived there.
The Vice Presidential mansion was refurbished by the United States
Navy in early 2001, only slightly delaying the move of then Vice
Dick Cheney and his family.
2 Architecture and decoration
2.1 Queen Anne style
2.2 1974 renovation
2.3 Interior furnishings
2.4 Underground bunker
3 Depictions in the media
4 See also
6 External links
The entry foyer at Number One Observatory Circle.
Lynne Cheney gives a
tour of the Naval Observatory to relatives of former Vice President
Walter Mondale. The Mondales were the first full-time family of the
Naval Observatory in 1977.
The house in 1895. The Queen Anne style house was built of terracotta
brick and originally unpainted. In 1961 the house's brick face was
Nelson Rockefeller (right) and his wife Margaretta
Murphy (second on left) entertain President
Gerald Ford (left) his
wife Betty (second on right) and their daughter Susan (center) at the
Naval Observatory on September 7, 1975.
Ronald Reagan and First Lady
Nancy Reagan visit Vice
George H. W. Bush
George H. W. Bush and Second Lady
Barbara Bush in the
The Library at Number One Observatory Circle. Vice President Dick
Lynne Cheney entertain his then Chief of Staff for the Vice
President Lewis "Scooter" Libby (left) and his wife Harriet Grant
(second on right) and former Vice President
Dan Quayle (right) and his
Marilyn Quayle (second on left) in the first floor library at the
Naval Observatory December 4, 2001.
A broad porch wraps around the front of the house, photographed during
the tenure of Vice President Al Gore.
The house at One Observatory Circle was designed by architect Leon E.
Dessez and built in 1893 for $20,000 (equivalent to $544,741 in 2017)
for the use of the superintendent of the Naval Observatory who was the
original resident. It was built on 13 acres (5.3 ha) of land
which had originally been part of a 73-acre (30 ha) farm called
Northview, which the Navy purchased in 1880. The observatory was moved
from Foggy Bottom to its new location the same year the house was
completed and twelve Observatory Superintendents lived in what was
then known as The Superintendent's House. In 1928, with the passage of
Public Law 630, Congress appropriated it for the Chief of Naval
Operations, and in June 1929 Charles Frederick "Handlebars" Hughes
became the first resident of what would then become known as Admiral's
House. For the next 45 years it served as the home of such Admirals
as Richard H. Leigh,
Chester W. Nimitz
Chester W. Nimitz and Elmo Zumwalt. The home was
originally dark red brick. Then, in 1960, it was painted "feather"
gray and, in 1963, white with black shutters. Now[when?] it is cream
In 1966, in response to the John F. Kennedy assassination, Congress
passed a law creating "an official residence for the Vice President of
the United States in the District of Columbia" and designating
"approximately ten acres at the United States Naval Observatory" for
such use. The exact location was to be determined by GAO and the Navy
later, and construction was to commence on the residence when funding
was available once the
Vietnam War was over. In the interim, the
Secret Service paid for expensive upgrades to the private homes of
Vice-Presidents Hubert Humphrey, Spiro Agnew, and Gerald R. Ford.
Agnew only lived in his house for three months before resigning, and
shortly thereafter sold it at a large profit, in part because of the
upgrades (additional quarters for the Secret Service, fences and a new
driveway for example) paid for by the government. This resulted in a
minor scandal, and a subsequent investigation showed that it would be
cheaper to set up the new Vice-Presidential residence immediately,
rather than continue to secure private homes.
In July 1974, Congress passed a new law to make Admiral's House the
"official temporary residence of the Vice-President of the United
States" effective upon the termination of service of the incumbent
Chief of Naval Operations. Work began on preparing Admiral's House to
be temporary Vice-President's residence later that fall, after Nixon's
resignation and the CNO was moved to Quarters A at the Navy
The house formally opened as the vice presidential residence in
September 1975. However, Nelson Rockefeller, the vice president at the
time, chose to live in his larger private home instead and only used
Admiral's House for entertaining. In January 1977, Walter Mondale
became the first vice president to live in the house, and it has
served as the home of every vice president since.
Instead of building a new Vice-Presidential residence, One Observatory
Circle continued to have extensive remodels. In 1976, the Navy spent
$276,000 to replace 22 window units with steam heat and central air
conditioning. In 1980, the leaky roof was replaced with slate. The
Bushes raised $187,000 for carpeting, furniture and upholstery when
they moved in in 1981, and the next year the Navy spent $34,000 to
repair the porch roof. $225,000 was spent to repair interior and
exterior walls damaged by water seepage, and $8,000 more to build a
small master bedroom. In 1989, new Vice President
Dan Quayle delayed
his move in by a month for an extensive $300,000 remodeling that
included a rebuilt third floor with bedrooms suitable for children, a
wheelchair-accessible entrance and an upgraded bathroom off the Vice
Presidents room. A putting green was added in 1989 and a swimming
pool, hot tub and pool house in 1991 – all paid for by private
donations. A 525-square-foot (48.8 m2) skylit exercise room was
added to the rooftop around that time. During this time numerous
security enhancements were also performed.
By 1991, the Navy, which was responsible for upkeep on the residence,
decided that Congress was never going to build a permanent
Vice-President's residence (ostensibly next door to Admiral's House)
and decided to substantially remodel and repair the house. Incoming
Al Gore agreed to delay his move into the house by
nearly 6 months to allow for the largest renovation of the house since
1974. The $1.6 million repair job replaced the heating, air
conditioning and plumbing, removed asbestos, rewired the electrical,
replaced the ventilation systems, restored the porch, and upgraded the
family quarters on the second floor.
Architecture and decoration
Queen Anne style
The house is built in the Queen Anne style popular in the last quarter
of the nineteenth century. Hallmarks of the Queen Anne style are an
asymmetrical floor plan, a series of rooms opening to each other
rather than a common central hall, round turret rooms, inglenooks near
fireplaces, and broad verandas wrapping the ground floor, all of which
are found at Number One Observatory Circle.
When the house was constructed, its exterior was faced in terracotta
brick. The wood trim was painted in a warm putty-gray, and the wooden
porch in a combination of the putty-gray and white. Window frames and
mullions were painted the same gray, and shutters were painted olive
green. The interior was furnished mostly with the personal furnishings
of the Naval Observatory Superintendent, and later those of the Chief
of Naval Operations. Period photographs of the interior show
middle-class nineteenth-century furnishings in a variety of styles,
including Eastlake. Walls were covered in patterned wall-papers.
By the first decade of the twentieth century, Victorian-style
architecture had begun to fall out of fashion. Many houses that were
originally built in brick, or in wood with complex painting, were
simplified and "colonialized" by being painted white. This frequently
happened inside as well as outside, and substantial wood millwork of
mahogany, quarter-sawn oak,
American chestnut and walnut were often
painted over in white to "lighten" rooms and make them feel more
contemporary. In 1961 the exterior of the house was painted white, the
color it still retains.
The 1974 renovation replaced and updated building systems and
increased the size of several rooms by removing internal walls. As a
part of this renovation, interior trim was painted white and the walls
a palette of mostly neutral colors. Little consideration was given to
historic preservation with interior or exterior spaces, and no attempt
was made at restoration of any interior space to its appearance at the
period of construction or early use. The 1961 era white paint on the
exterior was retained. Second floor shutters, which appear in an 1895
photograph, were reinstalled.
Most of the furnishings placed in the house following the 1974
renovation were twentieth century copies of either colonial or Federal
style pieces. A notable exception was a bed placed in the house by
Nelson Rockefeller. The bed was designed by artist Max Ernst. Called
the "cage" bed, the headboard had the form of a Greek pediment, and
the baseboard a lower version of a pediment. Sculptural foliage
similar to olive or laurel leaves wrapped around the posts. The seal
Vice President of the United States
Vice President of the United States was incorporated into the
headboard. The Rockefellers twice offered the bed permanently to the
house but it was turned down both by Vice President George H. W. Bush
and Vice President Dan Quayle. On visiting
Barbara Bush at the house,
Mrs. Rockefeller offered her the bed, and Mrs. Bush responded "you are
always welcome in this house, but there's no need to bring your own
bed." The Rockefellers did leave a lithograph called "The Great
Ignoramus", several antique Korean and Japanese chests, and nearly a
dozen other pieces.
When the Mondales occupied the house,
Joan Mondale introduced more
saturated upholstery and wall colors and contemporary art. Like the
Rockefellers, the Mondales brought some Asian antiques into the house.
The Bush family, working with interior decorator Mark Hampton, used a
palette of celadon, lime, and light blue. The Quayles removed the lime
green and used off-white. The Gores oversaw a complete redecoration,
the addition of a new dining-room table, new furniture for the
library, and a substantial renovation of the grounds and porches to
make them more suitable for outdoor entertaining. Immediately before
the Cheneys moved in, some needed work on the air conditioning and
heating was performed and the interiors were repainted. The Cheneys
brought several pieces of contemporary art into the house.
The three-story brick house—completed in April 1893—is compact, 39
by 77 feet (12 m × 23 m), with 9,150 square feet
(850 m2) of floor space. On the ground floor are a reception
hall, living room, sitting room, sun porch, dining room and small
pantry, and lavatories added later to the north side. The second floor
contains two bedrooms, a study, and a den. The third floor attic was
originally servants' quarters and storage space. The kitchen was
placed in the basement, along with a laundry room and other
On May 17, 2009, Newsweek's Eleanor Clift reported that Vice President
Joe Biden revealed that there is an underground "9/11" bunker under
the house. It was speculated that the bunker was built in December
2002 when neighbors complained of loud construction noises. Elizabeth
Alexander, the Vice President's spokesperson, explained the following
day, "What the vice president described in his comments was not—as
some press reports have suggested—an underground facility, but
rather, an upstairs work space in the residence, which he understood
was frequently used by Vice President Cheney and his aides."
Depictions in the media
When compared to the White House, One Observatory Circle is obscure
and little known. It is rarely a backdrop for political
During the brief feud between then–Vice President Quayle and
fictional television news reporter Murphy Brown, an episode of the
sitcom featuring the character included a scene of a truckload of
potatoes dumped at what is meant to be the gate to the Vice
President's residence as a silent protest.
The off-post area immediately beyond the fence was the site of
televised protests in support of Vice President Al Gore's presidential
bid during the Florida recount in November 2000.
Scenes of the
HBO series Veep occasionally take place in and in front
of the house. A portion of the premiere episode of Commander in Chief
was set in the upstairs residence.
In the tenth episode of the second season of the TV series Homeland,
Nicholas Brody goes to the Naval Observatory to find that Walden is in
a meeting with the Israeli Ambassador to the United States. He sneaks
into Walden's office and text messages the serial number to Abu Nazir,
only after confirming that
Carrie Mathison has been set free.
In House of Cards, Frank Underwood refuses to move to One Observatory
Circle when he is to be sworn in as Vice President. He instead opts to
remain living in his own private townhouse, which is renovated and the
Secret Service has numerous security features installed.
Blair House – the official state guest house for the President of
the United States
^ "The Vice President's Residence". Archived from the original on
^ Cleere, Gail S. (1990). The house on Observatory Hill: home of the
vice president of the United States. Oceanographer of the Navy.
p. 39. access-date= requires url= (help)
^ a b Rogers, Patricia Dane (13 May 1993). "Renovation". The
Washington Post. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
Nelson Rockefeller open 2nd Washington Home". Sarasota
Herald-Times. 7 September 1975. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
^ Sante, Mike (16 January 1989). "Renovating Quayle's Official Digs
New Bedrooms, A Bath And A Bathtub Are Parts Of The Plan".
Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
^ "Gores Move Into Official Hom". The Free Lance Star. 14 July 1993.
Retrieved 16 February 2016.
^ Passantino, Jonathan (May 17, 2009). "Biden Reveals Location of
Secret VP Bunker". Fox News. Retrieved 18 May 2009.
^ "Did Biden expose secret location of VP's bunker?"
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Number One Observatory Circle.
Time magazine article on the Rockefellers at One Observatory Circle
Coordinates: 38°55′23″N 77°03′55″W / 38.9230°N
77.0654°W / 38.9230; -77.0654
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