The History of Pools at the White House
I recently attended a pool conference in Washington, DC. While on an afternoon tour, the conversation turned to the history of the White House and if it still had a swimming pool.
Planning for the White House began when President George Washington signed into Act in December of 1790 a declaration that the house be built. Construction began in 1792, and it was not until 1800 that the first residents moved into it—the family of President John Adams.
Since that time, each President has made his own changes and additions, which includes 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 6 levels, 28 fireplaces, and 3 elevators. But it was not until 1933 that a swimming pool was built at the property.
In addition to being the first President to ride in an airplane, President Franklin Roosevelt was also the responsible for having the first swimming pool installed at the White House. President Roosevelt suffered from polio and built the pool so he could use it to help strengthen his upper body. The money to build the pool was raised from private donations, mostly New Yorkers, where President Roosevelt was from, in an effort to honor him. It was an indoor rectangular pool, with arched ceilings and half-moon windows. Just outside of the pool area was the Rose Garden. By today’s standards, the pool was high tech—complete with underwater lighting!
President Roosevelt used the pool regularly, as did President Harry Truman (1945-53). President Kennedy (1961-63) also used the pool frequently and during his presidency, a mural depicting a Caribbean scene was painted on three walls of the swimming pool room.
In 1969, President Richard Nixon had the pool covered with a floor in order to turn it into a press briefing room. The deep end of the pool is under the podium and the cameras located in the back of the room are over the shallow end of the pool.
In the early 1980’s, President Ronald Reagan (1981-89) had the press room remodeled, installing theater seats and having the room rewired to keep up with modern technology. It was during this rewiring that workers found the pool underneath the floor to be structurally intact. When President Bill Clinton (1993-2001) and his wife Hillary lived in the White House, she wanted to renovate the pool and move the news media to another location—but that idea never got past the initial planning stages. In 2006, the press briefing room was once again renovated. There is actually a trap door in the floor that some members of the media use to access the pool—and many of them have actually signed their names on the tile of the pool.
In 1975, President Gerald Ford (1974-77) had a pool built (also a rectangle pool)—this one an outdoor diving pool. President Ford was an avid swimmer, but he did not want to displace the media by refurbishing the indoor pool. A cabana was later added—and as you can imagine, it is beautiful. President Jimmy Carter’s (1977-81) daughter, Amy, used the pool frequently, as did Hillary Clinton—who also had a hot tub installed. The pool’s most frequent user was Barbara Bush, wife of George H.W. Bush (#41—1989-93).
Now we know about the history of swimming pools at the White House.
Just in case you are not a fan of swimming, there are other things to do at the White House, as it also has a tennis court, jogging track, swimming pool, movie theater, and bowling lane. And a few protestors out front, regardless of who is President!