Sunday, September 25, 2022

Tour of the West Wing

We had not even one full day in DC and we had some business to take care of at the White House.

We were asked to take covid tests before the tour which was nerve wracking. We came all this way and our hopes could have been dashed. Luckily the 14 covid vaccines I've taken did their job and we tested negatory.

We went to Astro for some sustenance. Some genius realized that donuts and fried chicken should be best friends. We really had to make this count since we were going to have so few chances to choose a restaurant in DC.

I got this biscuit chicken sandwich guy that was amazing.

We then headed to the National Mall to check out some museums.

Our first stop was the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

This place was full of amazing artifacts. They had the original Star Spangled Banner flag under glass in a dark room.

"In 1812 the United States declared war with Great Britain. Angered by British interference with American trade, the young nation was intent on reaffirming its recently won independence. Instead, a series of defeats left Americans anxious and demoralized. They were stunned when on August 24, 1814, British troops marched into Washington, D.C., and set the Capitol building and the White House ablaze."

This boat was super cool.

"The Continental Gunboat Philadelphia

Built-and sunk-in 1776, this oldest American man-of-war in existence symbolizes the resourcefulness of those who established our nation's independence.

Constructed in barely two months, the gunboat Philadelphia fought with the Continental squadron that continuously frustrated British efforts to isolate New England by occupying central New York. Benedict Arnold's successful delaying action on Lake Champlain was a pivotal moment that helped ensure victory at Saratoga in 1777 and decisive French intervention on the American side.

The Philadelphia sank on October 11, 1776, when a 24-pound shot from British forces hit the boat and caused rapid flooding."

There was a fun section where they had presidents' belongings displayed.

I might need this flag for myself.

"For political parties, the presidency is the highest prize. There are coattails to ride into office on and there is patronage to receive and to dispense. This banner celebrates Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1932 victory and the end of prohibition.

"Objects owned by or associated with Lincoln quickly became relics, reminding Americans of Lincoln's greatness and challenging them to keep his ideals alive.

One of the Smithsonian Institution's most treasured icons is this top hat, worn by Lincoln to Ford's Theatre on the night of his assassination."

We need more colossal Roman-style president statues around if you ask me.

Not only does the Smithsonian have numerous world class museums with free admission, but many of them are conveniently located right next to each other. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History was right next door.

They let you touch a real dinosaur bone. It felt very humerus.

"Glyptodont, armadillo relative (composite)
Glyptotherium texanum
Lived 1.8-0.3 million years ago
St. David Formation, Cochise Co., Arizona

Low-slung Glyptotherium must had fed close to the ground. Its huge jaw and cheekbones housed strong muscles, and its unusual teeth were adapted for grinding tough plants like grasses."

The time had come to head back to headquarters and put our presidential finery on. We walked past the Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle) but didn't have time to examine it.

There was a parade happening which added to the already existing pandemonium of DC traffic.

We met Frank at the famous Old Ebbitt Grill.

"The Old Ebbitt Grill, Washington's oldest saloon, was founded in 1856 when, according to legend, innkeeper William E. Ebbitt bought a boarding house. Today, no one can pinpoint the house’s exact location, but it was most likely on the edge of present-day Chinatown.

As a boarding house, the Ebbitt guest list read like a Who's Who of American History. President McKinley is said to have lived there during his tenure in Congress, and Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and Warren Harding supposedly refreshed themselves at its stand-around bar.

Each table in the Ebbitt was graced by a blue history card that read: "Many other famous statesmen, naval and military heroes, too numerous to mention here, have been guests of the house.""

I ordered a lobster roll and washed it down with a Port City 'Optimal Wit' Belgian-style witbier from Alexandria, VA.

It was fun to catch up with Frank. He moved out to DC maybe right after college and I haven't seen him in years. He was a congressional staffer for Beto O'Rourke and worked on his senate campaign. Now he's doing some Treasury Department gig that happened to land him a temporary assignment at the White House. He's very chill and humble, and would tell you that none of those jobs were very exciting, but from the outside it seems like a pretty solid career to me. He's soon turning to the dark side and joining a lobbying firm. Good for him thought because after all of that public service it's past time for him to get paid.

We entered the compound over by the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and checked that out first.

We'd had a background check earlier so security here was just some metal detecting. We did get cool visitor badges though.

On March 26, 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. met with then Senator Hubert Humphrey at his Capitol Hill office in Washington D.C. to discuss concerns regarding the stalled Civil Rights legislation. The photograph on the left portrays this meeting, showcasing the collaboration between Senator Humphrey and Dr King. These efforts eventually led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

The relationship between the two men continued after Senator Humphrey became Vice President in 1965. Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act, voter registration for African Americans living in the South remained difficult. After several incidents of violence at voter registration events in Alabama, Dr. King requested a meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson. 

On February 9, 1965, Dr. King met with Vice President Humphrey in his office, which is now room 180 in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB). They discussed voting rights legislation, and at the conclusion of the meeting Vice President Humphrey escorted Dr. King to the West Wing for an impromptu meeting with President Johnson. Dr. King shared his thoughts on the principles of voting rights with the President, and later commented that President Johnson, "held a deep commitment to obtaining the right to vote for all Americans." 

Less than a month after that meeting, on March 7, 1965, civil rights leaders organized a march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama. The march was met with opposition from Dallas County Sheriffs and the violent confrontation became known as Bloody Sunday. In the aftermath of the confrontation, meetings held between President Johnson, Vice President Humphrey, and Dr. King led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

These meetings captured an era of legislative change in America. The timeline of photography displayed in this room chronicles the spirit and emotional impact witnessed within the EEOB, the White House, and the country."

The bathrooms in there were palatial.

I swung by the Vice President's Ceremonial Office. No Kamalas seemed to be around.

We could not find a light switch. Sad.

"The Indian Treaty Room is located on the east wing's fourth floor and was originally the Navy Department Library. It was designed by Richard Ezdorf and was completed in 1880. The room does not resemble a library as we know it; the books were shelved in alcoves on two levels at each end adjacent to the main reading room. The Navy Department vacated the building between 1918 and 1921, with the library last to leave in 1923.

The Indian Treaty Room was later used for presidential press conferences from 1950 until 1961. President Eisenhower held the first televised presidential press conference in this room on January 19, 1955. Phone booths were located just outside the door to accommodate the press needing to call in their stories for late breaking news.

The room's designation as the "Indian Treaty Room" is one of the building's most interesting mysteries. It is not known how the room inherited its name despite considerable research. Its first mention in the press was in 1954, and many recall the days between 1923 and 1942 when the State Department used the room as storage space, and perhaps someone thought that treaties with Native American tribes were stored in the room."

I got excited when I caught a peek of the White House in profile. 

We headed over to the big show next. You can see other portions of the White House on tours booked by your local congressperson. Today we would only be touring the West Wing.

As is sadly the case with life, you can never take pictures of the most interesting places. So we adapted by taking about 40 pictures outside the door instead.

Upon entry we were asked to set down our phones, smart watches, and cocaine baggies.

They keep talking about "cubbies" for people's belongings but I recall just sitting our stuff in a pile in a windowsill. 

I was most excited to poke my little head in and check out the Oval Office, but there's a lot going on in the West Wing. 

I'll just steal some stuff from the White House website now. The best stuff seems to be from the Obama Administration, maybe because he was the last president that knew how to use the internet.

"In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt relocated his office from the second floor of the residence to this newly constructed building. The West Wing has expanded and undergone several renovations since then, but it has remained the official workplace of the President."

I think these photos are roughly in the order of our tour path which is nice.

Navy Mess

"Navy Stewards have provided food service to the Commander in Chief since 1880. The modern White House Navy Mess was established under President Harry S. Truman in 1951. The Navy’s culinary specialists prepare and serve fine foods in the West Wing.

Seated reservations are available to senior officials including commissioned officers, Cabinet Secretaries, and their guests. Staff located in the West and East Wing can enjoy food made in the Navy Mess from a take-out window located adjacent to the dining hall."

"Months after being sworn into office, President John F. Kennedy was confronted with the Bay of Pigs Invasion in Cuba and insisted that intelligence information feed directly into the White House. The Situation Room was established in 1961 to meet President Kennedy’s request.

The current “Sit Room” is a 5,000-square-foot complex of rooms that is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week to monitor national and world intelligence information. Televisions for secure video conferences and technology can link the President to generals and world leaders around the globe."

"President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011."

"Also known as the “45 second commute,” the West Colonnade was built for Thomas Jefferson to run alongside service spaces underneath the West Terrace, such as the ice house and storage rooms for coal and wood. The open columned walkway is now used by the President and his staff to travel between the West Wing and the Executive Residence."

"The Rose Garden was created by First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson in 1913. It was redesigned by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy to serve as a Presidential reception area. President Nixon’s daughter, Tricia Nixon Cox, was married here in 1971."

"In the Cabinet Room, the President meets with the Cabinet Secretaries, members of Congress, the National Security Council, and foreign Heads of State on topics ranging from energy efficiency to national security.

When the President meets around the large mahogany table with the Cabinet Secretaries, each is assigned a chair based on the date their department was established with the oldest Cabinet departments seated closest to the center. The President sits at the center of the table with his back to the Rose Garden doors and opposite the Vice President.

As a reflection of their inspiration and governing style, Presidents select the portraits that hang in the Cabinet Room. In May 2009, President Obama chose Frank O. Salisbury’s portrait of President Harry S. Truman to join the portraits of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt already displayed in the room."

I grabbed a photo of the Biden Oval Office since they seem to redecorate every administration.

"As the official office of the President and his primary place of work, the Oval Office provides the President with easy access to his senior advisors and the Executive Residence.

Beyond its distinctive shape, the most famous feature of the Oval Office is the Resolute Desk. Made from timbers of the H.M.S. Resolute – a British navy ship – it was presented by Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880. Since then, the desk has been used by every President with the exception of Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Ford.

Other notable furnishings in the Oval Office are the two paintings that flank the south windows. The Avenue in the Rain by Childe Hassam, 1917, depicts Fifth Avenue in New York City adorned with flags and banners in support of the Allied war effort during World War I. The Statue of Liberty by Norman Rockwell was prepared for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post to commemorate the Fourth of July in 1946.

Each President decorates the Oval Office to suit his tastes, but some features remain constant including the white marble mantel from the original 1909 President’s Office, the Presidential Seal on the ceiling, and the two flags behind the President’s desk – the U.S. Flag and the President’s Flag.

In addition to covering the walls with hand-painted striped wallpaper, President Obama added a new oval-shaped rug, which is made of 25% recycled wool. This rug features the Presidential Seal in the center and five historical quotations of meaning by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy around its border."

"The Roosevelt Room occupies the original location of President Theodore Roosevelt’s office when the West Wing was built in 1902. This room was once called the Fish Room because President Franklin D. Roosevelt used it to display an aquarium and his fishing mementos. In 1969, President Nixon named the room in honor of Theodore Roosevelt for building the West Wing and Franklin D. Roosevelt for its expansion.

On the southeast wall hangs President Theodore Roosevelt’s Congressional Medal of Honor awarded posthumously on January 16, 2001 to honor his heroism in the Spanish-American War in 1898. To the left of the fireplace hangs President Theodore Roosevelt’s Nobel Peace Prize, awarded in 1906, for his mediation of the Russo-Japanese War peace settlement. This was the first Nobel Prize awarded to an American."

There were uniformed Secret Service officers at desks here and there but there was less obvious security than I would have guessed. They were all very friendly but in the West Wing Lobby I apparently showed enough interest that I recruited the officer into being our impromptu tour guide. She was very knowable about all the artwork and furniture to an impressive extent.

I sort of expected the Secret Service to be really gruff and authoritarian like disgruntled TSA agents due to the importance of the place but they were really nice and unobtrusive. I wonder if by the time you are in the West Wing they figure you are important and they should leave you alone.

"The West Wing lobby is the reception room for visitors of the President, Vice President, and White House staff. The current lobby was renovated by Richard Nixon in 1970 to provide a smaller, more intimate receiving space.

The large gilt clock was likely created from assembled parts (both old and new) to imitate an early nineteenth century clock, similar to those used in churches and other public buildings. The artist inscribed the name “Simon Willard,” an important clock maker at the turn of the nineteenth century.

The English-made mahogany bookcase (c.1770) is one of the oldest pieces of furniture in the White House collection.

Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851) by Emanuel Leutze and Eastman Johnson is a recreation of Leutze’s monumental life-size painting of the same subject. The painting has numerous historical inaccuracies, including the depiction of the American flag which was designed more than a year after the crossing took place.

Vernal Falls is an 1889 view of a waterfall in the Yosemite Valley in California by Thomas Hill. Belonging to the permanent White House collection, this painting complements the c.1881 view of Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone by Albert Bierstadt that hangs on the same west wall of the reception room."

The press had a bunch of little cubby holes on the lawn where they could do little news shows immediately after leaving the White House.

We could see the snipers on top of the building, and we saw a couple of their replacements walking over with their guitar cases.

The White House grounds is sort of a beautiful mess. There's random buildings with clashing architecture sitting right next to each other, and the White House itself has had so many additions over the years it looks like a big white octopus.

Thankfully they let us take pictures in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room. Not taking pictures in such cool places felt like holding my breath. But I made that sacrifice for the good of the nation.

"During the Nixon Administration, more space was required to accommodate the growing press corps. Therefore, in 1970, the briefing room was constructed on top of the emptied pool that was installed for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s physical therapy.

In 2000, the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room was named in honor of former Press Secretary James Brady. He was shot and disabled during a 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. Today, the current White House press corps is made up of about 200 members. With just 49 chairs (arranged 7 by 7), it is up to the White House Correspondents Association to decide who gets these coveted seats."

The seats all had the names of news organizations on them.

This room brought to mind the press briefings during covid that people watched so closely.

Once in a lifetime West Wing tour accomplished.

The sad news that Strange Loop will only have one more year was announced.

On the plane home I read my John Romero signed copy of Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture.

No comments:

Post a Comment