Staying in shape at the White House
Jan. 19, 2009 - President Barack Obama, wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia will have plenty of perks when they move into the White House, a 55,000 square-foot Georgian-style mansion with 132 rooms and 32 bathrooms.
Lucky for the Obamas, the perks include a plethora of sports and recreational facilities. With a tennis court, putting green, running track, horseshoe pit and swimming pool right on the property, there’s no reason for the first family not to stay in shape.
Both President Obama and the first lady have exercise routines that would put most people to shame. Michelle Obama used to join a friend for 4:30 a.m. workouts, and Barack, a professed basketball junkie, usually starts his day in the gym.
We know the President and first lady will take advantage of the amenities, but can you imagine what life in the WH will be like for seven year old Sasha and ten year old Malia? In addition to having a private movie theatre and personal chef, they can have pool and bowling parties, tennis and golf lessons on their front lawn, and homework breaks in the game room.
Fitness is a tradition for residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. George W. Bush is an avid mountain biker, former President Bill Clinton jogged around Washington and former President George H.W. Bush liked to golf and jog, play tennis and pitch horseshoes.
The White House was originally built in the late 1700s at a cost of $230,000 – or about $3.5 million in today’s dollars. The house has obviously gone through a few changes over the years - electricity, plumbing and central heat are just a few of the upgrades - but the White House hasn’t changed that drastically since the early 1950’s.
Some of the improvements and amenities include:
• The White House tennis court, first built in 1902 behind the West wing, was moved to the west side of the south lawn in 1909. The White House tennis court has been a favorite outdoor recreation area for many presidents and their families. In place since the Theodore Roosevelt years, everyone from the Wilson daughters, Coolidge sons, Ford, and Bush has played. Florence Harding hosted the first women’s tennis exhibition, and Nancy Reagan held a fund-raiser tournament here.
• A heated indoor swimming pool was built in 1933 for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s physical therapy. John Kennedy sometimes held swimming races in the pool with Cabinet members. During President Nixon’s first term, this space in the West Wing was converted into the White House pressroom. The Ford administration installed an outdoor pool on the South lawn in 1975. Son Jack Ford took scuba diving lessons in it. Later, Amy Carter practiced her diving technique here. Barbara Bush was one of the pool’s most frequent users. Hillary Clinton also enjoyed it (she considered renovating the indoor pool and moving the press to a new facility). The Clintons also installed an outdoor spa. A cabana was added to provide a changing area and showers and an underground passage was created to allow the first family to get to the cabana from the West Wing without going outside.
• Bowling lanes were first built in the ground floor of the West Wing as a birthday gift for President Truman in 1947. Truman didn’t care for bowling himself, but allowed staff to start a league. These were moved to the Old Executive Office Building in 1955 to make way for a copy room. In 1969, President and Mrs. Nixon, both avid bowlers, had a one-lane alley built in an underground workspace area below the driveway leading to the North Portico.
• President Eisenhower, an avid golfer, had a putting green installed outside the Oval Office with a small sand trap on one side. A new practice green was located on the south grounds in 1996. The White House Putting Green lies a short walk outside the Oval Office door to the southeast. Most modern presidents have been golfers, including John Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W Bush and the putting green has been maintained.
• A third floor sitting room was converted to an exercise room complete with weights and treadmill during the Clinton Administration. At one time it was part of the northwest suite used by the Hoovers’ housekeeper. After Truman’s 1952 reconstruction, it was furnished as a guest bedroom. Jackie Kennedy made it the “blue toile” guest room, to complement the “red toile” Empire Room in the opposite corner. Now it is the “unsitting” room.
• A game room with billiard and ping-pong tables was constructed in 1970 on the third floor of the White House.
• A jogging track was built around the driveway of the South grounds during President Clinton’s first term.
• Not far from the Swimming Pool, the White House basketball court has been used for decades for occasional games by presidents and their staffs and families. George HW Bush installed a horseshoe pit next to it. Everyone knows that Obama loves hoops and even before he was elected President, he suggested tearing out the bowling alley and replacing it with an indoor basketball court. There’s plenty of room at the White House for a court — the ceilings are 22 feet (6.7 meters) high but if he wants to replace the bowling alley, he might have an argument on his hands if his daughters have any say in the matter.
Good times ahead!
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By Diane Lang