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White House Tour


The Eisenhower Executive Office Building and West Wing of the White House

A narrative by Tom Petznick.

Plaque commemorating my White House visit - click for larger view

To jump down to the pictures, click here.

If I could sum up our trip to the White House in one word, it would be WOW.  It was truly a childhood dream come true.  Jan and I arrived at Reagan National in DC at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 22nd, 2004.  After securing our rental car, we drove up to our hotel in College Park, MD, where we stayed at the University of Maryland, Maryland College Marriott.  It was the closest hotel we could get to downtown DC where I could use my Marriott Rewards points to get a free room.  Upon checking in I was informed we were eligible for a complimentary upgrade to the Executive Suite, and it took me about a millisecond to think it over before saying "yes". 
After changing to slightly more formal attire (suit and tie), we headed back downtown where we hooked up with our good friends Tim and Aleen Besmer at Starbucks on the corner of 14th and G Streets.  As you may recall, Tim is the Executive Vice President and co-owner of the USS Sequoia, the former Presidential Yacht.  We waited at Starbucks and met Bob Graci and his wife Shawn, who came down from Harrisburg, PA, who were also invited on the tour.  Bob is the former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Pennsylvania and Superior Court Judge, currently an attorney with Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC Shawn is a High School teacher and they are long-time friends of the Besmers.  The evening was quite beautiful and we spent about an hour enjoying conversation, coffee and pastries while seated outside at a sidewalk table
Shortly after 7:30, we walked around the north side of the White House grounds on Pennsylvania Ave., down West Executive Ave., around the Eisenhower Executive Office Building http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/eeobtour/ to the southwest gate of the White House complex, next to the EEOB.  Here we had to present our photo ID's and were allowed to proceed on to yet another gate on the southeast side of the EEOB, across the street from the West Wing.  Again we had to present our photo ID's and were given badges to hang around our necks, and waited the arrival of our tour guide, Lonnie Hovey.  Lonnie is the Director of Preservation, Architecture & Construction in the Executive Office of the President.   Once Lonnie arrived, we were taken into southeast entrance of the EEOB and rode the elevator to the 4th floor.  Lonnie took us into a room originally known as the Navy Department Library and Reception Room, now called the Indian Treaty Room.  The room was used as a library and a reception room and was the location of the very first televised press conference held by Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950's.  The architecture in the room was stunning.  Lonnie explained to us in detail the symbolism used in all aspects of the room and discussed its uses.  He also explained that the building was built to be as fireproof as possible, using predominately stone, marble, concrete and cast iron in it's construction, with very little wood.  He then took us up an elaborate staircase to the 5th floor and showed us the ornate rotundas of both the east and west wings of the building. 
From there it was back down the staircase, down the elevator and back out to the 2nd floor, where Lonnie took us into another conference room.  The room (of which I cannot recall the name of) was once used as an office by Richard Nixon during his presidency as a place to escape the confines of the West Wing.  Several photographs taken of Nixon were in this room.  Lonnie then unlocked the door of an adjoining room.  It was a bathroom that Nixon had installed that Lonnie had discovered, untouched after 30 years.   In the bathroom was a small shower, toilet, sink and medicine cabinet containing toothpaste, dental floss, mouthwash and shave cream....all Nixon's and still there after all these years!  It was amazing!  We then went back to the first floor and at this point, were ready for our tour of the West Wing.
We walked across the street to the western-most door of the West Wing.   While crossing the street, Lonnie pointed out where the offices of Condi Rice and Dick Cheney were on the northwest side of the building.  He also explained the overall floor plan of the West Wing, pointing out how both the structure and architecture has changed over the years by the different administrations.  The entryway and door had a canopy over them which came out about 20 feet from the building.  The door had an small overhang above it that came out about 2', which Lonnie explained was almost removed from the building, since it served no useful purpose.  However photographs of the overhang were found from Kennedy's presidency and it was decided to leave it on the building.  Upon entering the building, we went into a small reception area where there were several large (approx. 18" x 24") and very recent photographs of President Bush on each wall.  Lonnie told us that the pictures are rotated on a weekly basis.  Most of the pictures were from the President's visit to Florida the prior weekend.   All of them were quite good.  I asked what was happens to them once they are taken down and was told that some are saved for use in the Presidential Library, and some are given away to the individuals appearing in the photographs with the President. 
Past the foyer was a desk where a Secret Service agent was seated and we could see down the hallway where the offices of Condi Rice and Dick Cheney were.  We then went down a flight of stairs and were shown where the White House employees go to get their meals.   At the end of a short hallway on this level was the White House "Situation Room".   Of course the doors were closed, with a sign posted by it saying "Authorized Personnel Only".   Then it was back upstairs where we were taken down another hall that led us out to the walkway adjoining the Residence and the West Wing, opening up into the Rose Garden.  Here we were allowed to take pictures, which will be posted later.  The walkway has been the location for many memorable photographs of the Presidents over the years.   One I recall very well is of John and Bobby Kennedy walking and talking with one another and a 2nd photo I remember is of President Reagan leaning against on of the columns.  
We then went back inside, taking a left down another hallway and came to the Cabinet Room, which has been recently remodeled.  It was interesting to see the nameplates on the back of the chairs and get a sense of the "pecking order" of the Executive Branch.  Of course the President's chair had the highest back and was easy to pick out.   Lonnie said that the press had been allowed to see the room for the first time the day before we were there and it had yet to be used for a Cabinet meeting since its makeover. 
Down the hall from the Cabinet Room was the Oval Office.  The door was open, but sadly nobody was home.  The room was quite pretty and tastefully decorated.  Although we were unable to set foot inside of it, we could clearly see about 95% of what was in the room.  Lonnie pointed out how each President is allowed to design the HUGE oval rug on the floor.  The one the Bush's designed was quite nice.   Lonnie also explained on how the Bush's had the floor redone to a hardwood finish.   Several years ago the floor was made of a cork substance and when Eisenhower was president, that the floor got pretty well chewed up by him wearing his golf shoes in there all of the time.  In a later administration, they put down a hard wood textured vinyl flooring (which surprised me) which remained until the current administration.   During the course of discussion about the contents of the office, it was quite interesting that the uniformed guard outside of the office was able to tell us who the sculptor was for one of the statues in the room when Lonnie wasn't sure of the person's name.  To get a sense of everything we saw, here is the link to a virtual tour of the Oval Office:  http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/life/ovaloffice.html#  
Across the hall from the Oval Office is the Roosevelt Room, where we looked into the room from one angle, then walked down a hallway to peer in a 2nd door to get another angle.    From the second doorway we could see the photograph hanging over the fireplace in the room, it was of Teddy Roosevelt.  According to Lonnie, the picture of a Roosevelt always hangs on the wall, but will switch from Teddy to Franklin depending upon the current Administration. 
From there we went into the Reception area of the West Wing, where Lonnie explained that in the TV show the West Wing, the Reception area they use is much larger that the real room itself.  In this area was a glassed-in bookcase that contained several large sets of books.  It was interesting to see that they were the official Presidential paper for every President from Eisenhower through Clinton.  There were also two desks on each side of the room, a sofa and several chairs.  
At this point, we went back outside the western door of the building and walked around to the north side of it to enter into the Press Room.  Here we were allowed to take pictures again.  In the back of the room there were risers where all of the cameras are set up.  In front of the risers are all of the seats for the press, each seat with a nameplate on the front of it telling who sits there.   Of course on the front row were the big-shot news agencies, like ABC, CNN, CBS (surprisingly still there after Dan Rather's debacle).  The only person's nameplate we saw was of Helen Thomas, smack-dab in the middle seat on the front row.  We also were allowed to go up and stand at the podium where we took several photos of the group together. 
By this time, it was getting just past 10:00 p.m. and we had to conclude our tour.  We walked with Lonnie back through the security gates, said our goodbyes and exited the south gate of the complex.  We took a leisurely moonlit stroll past the fence on the south end of the White House grounds around the block and ended up at Old Ebbitt Grill, where we had a late supper.  After our meal, we said our farewells and parted ways.  Tim and Aleen gave Bob and Shawn a ride up to Shady Grove, where they caught a train back to Harrisburg and Jan and I headed back to our hotel. 
It was a bit of an education driving through the streets of downtown DC after midnight.  There were several homeless folks sleeping in doorways and we saw them gathered in groups in some of the public spaces.  There were also a few characters walking the streets that I would want to cross paths with on a dark night, but after what seemed to be a VERY long drive, we made it to the hotel in one piece.
The next morning we didn't have a great deal of time to go sightseeing before having to catch our plane.   I wanted to take Jan to the top of the Washington Monument, however we discovered that they are renovating the grounds surrounding it and the building is closed until next spring.  We were however able to see the new World War II Memorial.  It is quite a beautiful tribute to our Greatest Generation.  What made it more meaningful to us was that there were dozens of WWII Vets there, some with tours and some with their families.   Jan said the sight brought tears to her eyes. 
We didn't have enough time to stop up and see the Native American Museum at the Smithsonian which just opened this week and wanted to see.  We drove up past the Mall where we saw lots of tents, etc. where several festivities are being held.   From there it was on to the airport and the return trip home.

Pictures of the tour

The White House, view from the north - click for larger viewBob & Shawn Graci, Tim & Aleen Besmer & Jan - click for larger viewLeft is a view of the North Lawn of the White House on the evening of September 22nd, 2004. Right is a picture of Bob & Shawn Graci, Aleen & Tim Besmer and Jan.

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Left - Bob & Shawn Graci, Tim Besmer, Jan and me.  Right - Bob & Shawn Graci, Tim Besmer, Jan and Me.

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Me, Jan, Shawn, Tim, Lonnie and Bob - click for larger viewLeft - Bob Graci, Aleen & Tim Besmer, Jan and me.  The photo on the right was taken in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB). Left to right are me, Jan Shawn Graci, Tim Besmer, Lonnie Hovey and Bob Graci.

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Tim and Aleen Besmer - click for larger viewA doorway in the Indian Treaty Room of the EEOB - click for larger viewLeft - Aleen and Tim Besmer.  Right is a doorway in the Indian Treaty Room of the EEOB.

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The balcony of the Indian Treaty Rom of the EEOB - click for larger viewStairway in the EEOB - click for larger viewLeft - The balcony in the EEOB.  Right - A view looking down the stairway in the EEOB.

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Walkway to the Residence of the White House - click for larger viewLooking into the Rose Garden & towards the Oval Office - click for larger viewLeft - Looking towards the Residence of the White House.  Right - Looking into the Rose Garden, towards the Oval Office.

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Bob & Shawn Graci, Tim & Aleen Besmer, Jan & me - click for larger viewA view to the Private Residence of the White House - click for larger viewLeft - Bob & Shawn Graci, Tim & Aleen Besmer, Jan and me facing the Rose Garden.  Right - A view down the walkway between the West Wing and White House Residence. 

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Me, Jan, Shawn Graci, Tim Besmer, Bob Graci & Lonnie Hovey - click for larger viewAleen & Tim Besmer, Jan & me, Shawn & Bob Graci - click for larger viewLeft - Lonnie Hovey explains some of the history associated with that portion of the White House to our group.  Right - In the at the podium of the Press Room of the West Wing are Aleen & Tim Besmer, Jan, me and Shawn & Bob Graci.

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More to come soon......



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Last modified: November 13, 2004