The White House is a six-story, 55,000 square foot house located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washinton, DC. The house has 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms, 412 doors, 147 windows, twenty-eight fireplaces, eight staircases, three elevators, five full-time chefs, a tennis court, a (single-lane) bowling alley, a movie theater (officially called the White House Family Theater), a jogging track, a swimming pool, and a putting green and sits on 18 acres of land.
The White House also happens to be the home of the President of the United States. Additionally, it’s a top tourist attraction in the city, if you are lucky enough to get a tour.
After living in the DC area for about 15 years, I finally got a tour of the White House. It has been on my bucket list since day 1 but the timing never worked out. The roadblocks to getting a tour have also become more and more difficult as the years have passed. Finally, though, thanks to my friend, Karen, from California, I was able to get inside. (You see the irony here, right? She lives 3,000 miles away in California. I live 10 miles away, just across the river. And I needed her connections and planning to finally get me inside the White House. Haha!)
While we waited for our time slot to line up outside the house, we visited the White House visitor’s center. I was able to get a stamp for my National Park System passport and enjoy the informative displays. Anyone can come to the visitors center so even if you can’t get a tour, be sure to stop by here while you are in town.
Now that our magic time window has arrived, we join the queue to get inside. First a security guard checks our tickets to be sure we are in the right time slot. Then we wind back and forth to the next security guard who grills us about our identity (Why do I always worry about failing these tests? I should know who I am, right?). We all make it through and continue our way through the turnstyles (it’s just like Disneyland!) until the last security checkpoint -a fan and an x-ray (note: do not bring anything with you except your ticket, your ID, and your cell phone – nothing else is allowed inside).
Just like that – we’re in!
Inside the White House
Our tour starts on the ground floor where we can look from the doorway into the china room and a couple other rooms. Then we are heading upstairs to the state floor.
On the state floor we pass through the State dining room, the color rooms (red, blue, green), and the East room. Then, just like that, it’s over. There’s time for a quick photo under the seal and then next thing you know, we’re out on the north porch.
I’m so glad Karen warned me about how short the tour was. If not, I would have been really upset. As it is, I’m fairly disappointed. I feel like I barely saw anything at all. And the things that I did see did not feel particularly special or White Houseish. It was no different than visiting Monticello or Mount Vernon. Yes I know this sounds very spoiled but I wanted to see super special White House things! I want to see where people work and how all the things happen. But alas, that’s not what you get to see on the nickel tour of the White House.
I want more!
I want to know more about how it all works. How does the house run? What do the different office spaces look like? I checked out a few books at the library but none of them really satisfied my desire to know more. The Residence tells me a little about the inner workings but it mostly reads more like a celebrity tell-all about the presidents and their families. I’m not looking for dirt on the Clintons or the Bushes. I’m looking for things like how the laundry gets done and what does the swimming pool look like.
The best source I found for the things I really want to know is this 1995 National Geographic documentary called Inside the White House. It’s pretty long (about 90 minutes) but it contains many of those behind the scenes glimpses that I’m always yearning for! (And it’s narrated by Morgan Freeman!) You can also watch it on YouTube here. Short of getting a job in the White House (president perhaps?!), this may be the best I can do to satisfy my questions.
Let’s do lunch!
I mean, how can you look at this picture and not click over to see more? The White House may have been a little disappointing but lunch was very satisfying!
What about you? Have you been to the White House? What did you think of it?
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Jane, O’Connor. If The Walls Could Talk Family Life at the White House. Simon and Schuster, 2004.
Grove, Noel. Inside the White House: Stories from the World’s Most Famous Residence. National Geographic, 2013
Brower, Kate Andersen. The Residence inside the Private World of the White House. Harper, 2016