6 Little-Known Facts About the White House

  • White House, mid-1840s
White House, mid-1840s
Stock Montage/ Archive Photos via Getty Images

The White House is undoubtedly one of Washington, D.C.’s most recognizable landmarks. But while many Americans have seen it in person or on the back of a $20 bill, there’s still much to be learned about the history of this iconic building. From its massive renovations to the many rooms that were converted into entertainment venues, the White House boasts a rich history that makes it one of the most remarkable places in the nation’s capital.

When George Washington took office as the first President of the United States, the White House was just a concept. In fact, original proposals called for an even grander “President’s Palace” that would have been four times bigger than the White House we know today. Architect James Hoban later proposed a more modest neoclassical design based on the Leinster House in Dublin, and he was chosen to spearhead the project. Upon its completion in 1800, John Adams became the first President to call the White House home, and the building’s legacy has only grown from there. Here are six little-known facts about the White House.

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The White House Has a Bowling Alley, Movie Theater, and Pool

The White House is not only a place to conduct government business; it’s also the first family’s home. Over the years, Presidents and their families have repurposed some of the building’s 132 rooms into entertainment venues to make their lives more enjoyable. One such room is the White House bowling alley, which Harry Truman opened in 1947 in the West Wing. While Truman wasn’t a frequent bowler himself, White House staffers formed the White House Bowling League in 1950. Those original lanes were closed by Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1955, but years later, Richard Nixon opened a new bowling alley directly underneath the North Portico.

Other notable spaces found throughout the White House include a 40-seat movie theater, which was converted from a former cloakroom in the East Wing. During Bill Clinton’s administration, a third-floor sitting room was repurposed as a music room, where the President practiced playing saxophone. The White House also has a storied history of swimming pools; the first White House swimming pool was built indoors for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, as he often swam for exercise in the wake of his polio diagnosis. In 1975, Gerald Ford commissioned the construction of an outdoor pool that he proudly showed off by taking a dip in front of reporters on July 5 of that year. This secluded escape is located just south of the West Wing, and remains open to Presidents and their families.

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