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Number One Observatory Circle

Coordinates: 38°55′23″N 77°03′56″W / 38.9229553°N 77.0654258°W / 38.9229553; -77.0654258
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Number One Observatory Circle
Number One Observatory Circle, the official home of the vice president of the United States, in 2001
General information
Address1 Observatory Circle NW, U.S. Naval Observatory, Washington, D.C., U.S.
Coordinates38°55′23″N 77°03′56″W / 38.9229553°N 77.0654258°W / 38.9229553; -77.0654258
Current tenantsKamala Harris, Vice President of the United States and the Second Family
Design and construction
Architect(s)Leon E. Dessez
official website

Number One Observatory Circle, often referred to as the Naval Observatory, 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 the observatory superintendent. The 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 determined that it would be easier and less expensive to provide security in a government-provided residence, and authorized its transformation to the first official residence for the vice president, though a temporary one. It is still the "official temporary residence of the vice president of the United States" by law. The 1974 congressional authorization covered the cost of refurbishment and furnishing the house.

Although Number One Observatory Circle was made available to the vice president in 1974, more than two 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 official entertainment as he already had a well-secured residence in Washington, D.C.,[1] though the Rockefellers donated millions of dollars' worth of furnishings to the house. Vice President Walter Mondale was the first vice president to move into the house. Every vice president since has lived there.[2]



Early history

The Queen Anne style house in 1895; built of terracotta brick, it was unpainted until 1960

The house at One Observatory Circle was designed by architect Leon E. Dessez and built in 1893 for $20,000 (equivalent to $678,222 in 2023) 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.[3] Northview had been the property of widow Margaret Barber, who at the time of the abolition of slavery in the District in 1862 was one of its largest slaveholders.[4]

The Naval Observatory is located 2.5 miles (4 km) from the White House[5] and directly to its south is the British Embassy.[6] The observatory was moved from Foggy Bottom to its present location the same year the house was completed and 12 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 Hughes became the first resident of what became known as Admiral's House.[3][7] For the next 45 years, it served as the home of admirals such as Richard Leigh, Chester Nimitz, and Elmo Zumwalt.[8]

Previous vice presidential residences and legislation


Previously, serving vice presidents had lived in hotels or their own private homes.[9] In 1923, to honor her late husband, Senator John B. Henderson's widow offered to provide their newly built home as an official residence.[10][9] President Calvin Coolidge, who lived in a hotel when he served as vice president from 1921 to 1923, wrote in his autobiography that an "official residence with suitable maintenance should be provided for the Vice-President", and that the office "should have a settled and permanent habitation and a place, irrespective of the financial ability of its temporary occupant."[10][9]

In 1966, the House Public Works Committee approved the construction of a three-story vice presidential residence at the Naval Observatory. A month later, President Lyndon B. Johnson suspended construction until the economy improved; construction never restarted.[9]

The exact location was to be determined later by the GAO and the Navy. 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 Ford. Agnew lived in his house for only three months in 1973 before resigning; shortly after, he 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. A subsequent investigation showed that it would be cheaper to immediately set up the new vice presidential residence rather than secure private homes.[citation needed]

Rockefeller and Mondale


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 the temporary vice president's residence later that fall, after Richard Nixon's resignation and move of the CNO to Quarters A at the Navy Yard.[citation needed] The decision was largely made as it was increasingly expensive to add security and communicative equipment to each new vice presidential residence.[6] Elmo Zumwalt was the last chief of naval operations to live in Number One Observatory Circle before it became the official residence of the vice president. For Zumwalt, not pleased with the choice, this was reason enough to challenge Virginia senator Harry F. Byrd Jr. in the 1976 Senate election.[11]

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. No attempt was made to restore 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.

Vice President Walter Mondale and his wife host President and Mrs. Carter in 1977

The house formally opened as the vice presidential residence in September 1975.[12] Vice President Gerald Ford would have been the first resident if President Richard Nixon had not resigned, leaving the White House to Ford.[13] The new vice president Nelson Rockefeller chose to live in his larger private home instead and used Admiral's House only for entertaining.[14] 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.[15]

Later vice presidents


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; the leaky roof was replaced in 1980 with slate. In 1981, George H. W. Bush and Second Lady Barbara raised $187,000 for carpeting, furniture, and upholstery when they moved in. The next year, the Navy spent $34,000 to repair the porch roof. Repairs to interior and exterior walls damaged by water seepage amounted to $225,000, and $8,000 more was spent to build a small master bedroom.[citation needed] Bush also constructed a horseshoe pit and quarter-mile track around the residence.[9] During his eight years at the residence, Vice President Bush hosted over 900 parties.[16]

Dan Quayle delayed his move-in by a month in 1989 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 president's room.[17] A putting green was also added that year. In 1991, a non-profit organization, the Vice President's Residence Foundation, was established to raise further funds to redecorate the residence, and Quayle added a pool, hot tub, and pool house.[5][note 1]. A 525-square-foot (49 m2) sky-lit exercise room was added to the rooftop around that time, and numerous security enhancements were also performed.[8]

The Navy, responsible for upkeep on the residence, decided in 1991 that Congress would never build a permanent vice president's residence (ostensibly next door to Admiral's House) and opted instead to remodel and repair the house substantially. Al Gore agreed to delay his move into the house by nearly six months in 1993 to allow for the largest renovation of the house since 1974.[19] The $1.6 million repair job replaced the heating, air conditioning, plumbing, removed asbestos, rewired the electrical, replaced the ventilation systems, restored the porch, and upgraded the family quarters on the second floor.[20] Unlike prior additions, these habitability-focused renovations were carried out with taxpayer funds. Second Lady Tipper Gore built an electronic inventory of all the official household items passed down from administration to administration.[21]

Vice President Dick Cheney and Second Lady Lynne Cheney's changes to the residence included renovating the upstairs exercise room, redoing the kitchen pantry, and decorating the house in neutral colors.[21][22]

In 2010, Vice President Joe Biden added a tree swing to the grounds as a Valentine's Day present for Second Lady Jill Biden, who later added the Family Heritage Garden, where stones memorialize all the home's previous occupants and their family members, including pets.[22]

Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence added a beehive to the grounds in 2017 as well as a new basketball court.[9][23][24][25]

Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff moved into Number One Observatory on April 7, 2021.[26] They temporarily resided at Blair House during the renovations[27] as they agreed to move in once the $3.8 million upgrades to the residence had been completed.[28][29] The repairs consisted of replacing chimney liners, heating, air-conditioning, and plumbing systems.[20] Harris was responsible for having the kitchen remodeled and the hardwood floors refurbished.[30]

In October 2021, Emhoff affixed a white mezuzah to the right-hand side of the doorway of the residence's wooden entryway, which marked the first time an executive home in American history has carried the abiding sign of sanctity of a Jewish home.[31][32] On November 28, 2021, Harris and Emhoff became the first second couple to light a menorah in the window of the official residence in celebration of the first night of Hanukkah.[33] On April 15, 2022, Harris and Emhoff became the first known second family to host a Passover Seder at the vice president's residence.[34]

Architecture and decoration


Queen Anne style

A broad porch wraps around the front of the house, photographed during the tenure of Vice President Al Gore

The house is built in the Queen Anne style prevalent in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.[9] 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 with terracotta brick. The wood trim was painted in a warm putty-gray, and the wooden porch in a combination of 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 various 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 initially built in brick or wood with complex paintings were simplified and "colonialized" by being painted white. This frequently happened inside as well as outside. 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.[citation needed] The home's exterior was originally dark red brick until 1960 when it was painted "feather" gray. It was changed to white with black shutters in 1963, and by 1993 was cream-colored.[8]



The house is 9,000 square feet (836 m2).[9] The house's first floor has a dining room, garden room, living room, lounges, pantry kitchen, reception hall, sitting room, and veranda. The second floor contains the main bedroom suite, an additional bedroom, a den, and a study. The attic, once the servants' quarters, now houses four bedrooms. The main kitchen is located in the basement.[5]

The residency's furnishings can be seen while Vice President Walter Mondale hosts President Jimmy Carter (top in 1977) and while Vice President Mike Pence hosts Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar (bottom in 2020).

Interior furnishings


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 surrealist 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.[35][36] 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 green, 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.

Privacy and security




Unlike the White House, Number One Observatory Circle and the surrounding Naval Observatory do not offer any public tours.[5][9]

Underground bunker


In December 2002, following the September 11 attacks, neighbors of the Number One Observatory Circle, then inhabited by Cheney, complained of loud "blasts" and construction noises. Occurring several times and lasting up to five seconds, the vibrations were able to knock mirrors off the walls of some nearby residences. Neighbors who complained about the construction received a letter from the observatory's superintendent reading, "Due to its sensitive nature in support of national security and homeland defense, project-specific information is classified and cannot be released." It was widely speculated that a nuclear bunker was being constructed.[37][38][39]

In 2009, recently inaugurated Vice President Joe Biden reportedly revealed the existence of an underground "9/11" bunker beneath the house.[40][41] Elizabeth Alexander, Biden's press secretary, 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."[41] The Christian Science Monitor suggested that Biden was actually referring to a tunnel which leads to one of the Navy-operated telescopes on the grounds.[6]

See also

  • White House – the official residence of the president of the United States
  • Camp David – country retreat for the president of the United States
  • Blair House – the official state guest house for the president of the United States
  • Tingey House - Chief of Naval Operations' official residence since 1974



Informational notes

  1. ^ Then-Vice President Joe Biden showed great appreciation for Quayle's addition. In 2010, he called Quayle his "favorite vice president" due to the pool,[5] and, after leaving the house in 2017, told the incoming Pences, "you’re gonna love the pool".[18]


  1. ^ Denyer, Charles (2017). Number One Observatory Circle: The Home of the Vice President of the United States. Cambridge Klein Publishers. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-9987642-0-7. Archived from the original on August 4, 2019. Retrieved April 30, 2019. In September 1974, the stately Queen Anne-style home on the grounds of the Observatory formally opened as the home of the vice president of the United States, but with no tenant, since the sitting vice president, Nelson Rockefeller, decided to stay put at his luxurious mansion in Northwest DC.
  2. ^ "The Vice President's Residence". WhiteHouse.gov. Archived from the original on October 21, 2009.
  3. ^ a b Cleere, Gail S. (1990). The House on Observatory Hill: Home of the Vice President of the United States. Oceanographer of the Navy. p. 39. Archived from the original on January 21, 2021. Retrieved November 15, 2019.
  4. ^ Mirijanian, Peter; Planning, Mark (February 23, 2021). "Where slaves once toiled, Vice President Kamala Harris will soon call home". Roll Call. Retrieved March 19, 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d e Weiss, Brennan; Wiley, Melissa (August 20, 2020). "Inside Number One Observatory Circle, the often overlooked but stunning residence where every vice president has lived since 1977". Business Insider. Archived from the original on November 8, 2020. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c Grier, Peter (April 11, 2011). "Obama has the White House, but where does Vice President Joe Biden live?". The Christian Science Monitor. Archived from the original on December 25, 2020. Retrieved January 20, 2021.
  7. ^ Cheney, Lynne V. (October 17, 2016). "This Is Where Many Vice Presidents Have Lived". Architectural Digest. Archived from the original on November 9, 2020. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  8. ^ a b c Rogers, Patricia Dane (May 13, 1993). "Renovation". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Taylor, Derrick Bryson (January 20, 2021). "Do You Know Where the Vice President Lives?". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 21, 2021. Retrieved January 20, 2021.
  10. ^ a b "Offers Gift of Residence For Use of Vice Presidents". The New York Times. January 26, 1923. Archived from the original on January 21, 2021. Retrieved January 20, 2021.
  11. ^ Bush, Barbara (2010). Barbara Bush: A Memoir. Scribner. ISBN 978-1-4516-0395-8. Archived from the original on August 1, 2020. Retrieved April 18, 2020.
  12. ^ "Happy's happy with new official home". The Spokesman-Review. Spokane. Associated Press. September 8, 1975. p. 7. Archived from the original on January 21, 2021. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  13. ^ "The Vice President's Residence & Office". whitehouse.gov. Archived from the original on October 2, 2020. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  14. ^ "New VP house fit for a Rockefeller". Lewiston Morning Tribune. The Washington Post. September 8, 1975. p. 2A. Archived from the original on January 21, 2021. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  15. ^ "Happy, Nelson Rockefeller open 2nd Washington Home". Sarasota Herald-Times. United Press International. September 7, 1975. p. 11A. Archived from the original on January 21, 2021. Retrieved December 31, 2015 – via Google News.
  16. ^ Heil, Emily (October 17, 2017). "Secrets of the vice president's residence revealed in new book". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on December 19, 2017. Retrieved October 3, 2020 – via The Denver Post.
  17. ^ Sante, Mike (January 16, 1989). "Renovating Quayle's Official Digs New Bedrooms, A Bath And A Bathtub Are Parts Of The Plan". Philadelphia Inquirer. Archived from the original on January 3, 2016. Retrieved February 9, 2016.
  18. ^ Coyne, Virginia (December 5, 2017). "Inside Homes: The Vice President's Residence". Washington Life Magazine. Archived from the original on October 9, 2020. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  19. ^ "Gores Move Into Official Home". The Free Lance–Star. Fredericksburg, VA. July 14, 1993. Archived from the original on January 21, 2021. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
  20. ^ a b Stump, Scott (April 11, 2021). "The history behind Kamala Harris' new vice presidential residence". Today.
  21. ^ a b "1 Observatory Circle: The history behind the vice president's house'". WTOP-FM. February 27, 2018. Retrieved May 15, 2023.
  22. ^ a b "15 things you didn't know about the vice president's official residence, where Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff live". Insider Inc. December 26, 2022. Retrieved May 15, 2023.
  23. ^ "Second Lady Karen Pence, Secretary Perdue Unveil Beehive at Vice President's Residence, and Ask Public to Help Boost Pollinator Population". U.S. Department of Agriculture. Archived from the original on October 31, 2020. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  24. ^ Groppe, Maureen (January 14, 2018). "How Karen and Mike Pence — and their pets — have put their personal stamp on the vice presidential residence". USA Today. Archived from the original on June 1, 2023. Retrieved June 1, 2023.
  25. ^ Koncius, Jura (April 16, 2018). "New curtains, a beehive and a basketball court: The Pences at the vice president's residence". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on June 1, 2023. Retrieved June 1, 2023.
  26. ^ Katie, Rogers (April 7, 2021). "Harris Is Moving Into Newly Renovated Official Residence". New York Times. Retrieved April 7, 2021.
  27. ^ Koncius, Jura (January 22, 2021). "Vice President Harris to stay at Blair House while official residence undergoes repairs". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 24, 2021.
  28. ^ "Kamala Harris is reportedly 'bothered' that she hasn't been able to move into her official Washington residence over 2 months after inauguration". Business Insider. March 28, 2021.
  29. ^ Perry, Tim (January 20, 2021). "Kamala Harris won't be moving into vice president's residence at Naval Observatory immediately". CBS News. Archived from the original on January 21, 2021. Retrieved January 20, 2021.
  30. ^ "VP Residence Renovation Mystery: 2 Months Into Office, Kamala Harris Is Still Waiting for Home". KPIX News. March 27, 2021. Retrieved October 25, 2022.
  31. ^ "Second family becomes first to affix a mezuzah on executive home". CNN. November 20, 2021.
  32. ^ "Second gentleman attends National Menorah lighting ceremony: 'Jewish history is American history'". CNN. November 28, 2021. Retrieved October 25, 2022.
  33. ^ "Doug Emhoff Lights National Menorah on First Night of Hanukkah: 'Jewish History is American History'". People. November 29, 2021.
  34. ^ "Second family to hold first known Passover Seder at vice president's residence". CNN. April 14, 2022.
  35. ^ Groppe, Maureen (November 24, 2017). "Fun facts about the vice president's residence and the people who lived there". USA Today. Archived from the original on February 22, 2020. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  36. ^ Charlton, linda (September 9, 1975). "Rockefellers Toss A Housewarming – In 9 Installments". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 21, 2021. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  37. ^ "Cheney's neighbours stoke bunker rumours". BBC News. December 9, 2002. Archived from the original on June 15, 2020. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  38. ^ Nakamura, Davis (December 8, 2002). "Cheney's Home Sending Bad Vibrations". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on October 3, 2020. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  39. ^ Dowd, Maureen (December 11, 2002). "Disco Dick Cheney". The New York Times. Archived from the original on September 10, 2020. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  40. ^ Passantino, Jonathan (May 18, 2009). "Biden Reveals Location of Secret VP Bunker". Fox News. Archived from the original on June 16, 2020. Retrieved May 18, 2009.
  41. ^ a b Silva, Mark (May 19, 2009). "VP bunker exposed--sort of". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on January 10, 2021. Retrieved October 3, 2020.