With their offices located on the White House grounds, every Vice President since Walter Mondale has lived with their families on the grounds of the United States Naval Observatory.
Located on the grounds of the United States Naval Observatory (USNO), the white 19th Century house at Number One Observatory Circle in northwestern Washington, D.C., was built in 1893. Originally intended for the superintendent of the USNO, the house was so lovely that in 1923, the chief of naval operations kicked out the superintendent so he could move in himself. Historically, Vice Presidents and their families lived in their own homes, but the cost of securing these private residences grew substantially over the years. Finally, in 1974, Congress agreed to refurbish the house at the Naval Observatory as a home for the Vice President.
Three years passed before any Vice President actually lived at Number One Observatory Circle. Vice President Gerald Ford acceded to the Presidency before he could use the home, and his Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller, only used it for entertaining. Walter Mondale was the first Vice President to move into the home. It has since been home to the families of Vice Presidents Bush, Quayle, Gore, Cheney, and Biden. Vice President Pence and Mrs. Pence currently reside there.
Vice Presidents have welcomed countless guests to the residence, including foreign leaders and dignitaries. Still, the Naval Observatory has continued to operate. Scientists observe the sun, moon, planets, and selected stars, determine and precisely measure the time, and publish astronomical data needed for accurate navigation.
The Vice President’s Ceremonial Office
In addition to the Vice President’s Office in the West Wing, the Vice President and his staff maintain a set of offices in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB), located next to the West Wing on the White House premises. This office, called the Vice President’s Ceremonial Office, served as the Navy Secretary’s Office when the EEOB housed the State, Navy, and War Departments. Today, the Vice President uses the office for meetings and press interviews.
Sixteen Secretaries of the Navy worked here between 1879 and 1921. From 1921 until 1947, General John Pershing occupied the room as Army Chief of Staff and Chairman of the Battle Monuments Commission. Pershing’s occupancy of the office was interrupted only once during these 26 years, when President Hoover was forced to relocate his offices following a Christmas Eve fire in the West Wing in 1929. Since 1960, it has been occupied by every Vice President except for Hubert Humphrey, who used a room on the floor below. Since its restoration in the 1980s, it has been considered a ceremonial office.
William McPherson, a well-known Boston decorator and painter, designed the room. Its walls and ceiling were decorated with ornamental stenciling and allegorical symbols of the Navy Department, hand painted in typical Victorian colors. The floor is made of mahogany, white maple, and cherry, and the two fireplaces are original Belgian black marble.
The room’s chandeliers are replicas of the turn-of-the-century gasoliers that formerly adorned the room. These historic fixtures were equipped for both gas and electric power — with the gas globes on top and the electric lights below.
There are several items of note in the room, but the most interesting may be the Vice-President’s Desk. This desk is part of the White House collection and was first used by Theodore Roosevelt in 1902. Several Presidents have chosen to use this desk, including Presidents Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, and Eisenhower. It was placed in storage from December of 1929 until 1945, when it was selected by President Truman. Vice President Johnson and each subsequent Vice President have used the desk. The inside of the top drawer has been signed by its various users since the 1940s.
A bust of Christopher Columbus — one of the few original items on display — was exhibited in the Secretary’s office between 1898 and 1924. It was removed from the Spanish Cruiser Christabal Colom by the crew of the USS Montgomery after the battle of Santiago in July 1898.