Archive for April, 2018

A Post-White House Presidential Residence

Unlike when most presidents’ terms in office conclude, when President Obama left the White House in January of 2017 he and his family chose to stay here in D.C.  In fact, the only other former President to live in D.C. after leaving the presidency was Woodrow Wilson, who also has the distinction of being the only former president interred in D.C.

The Obamas’ reason for staying in the national capital city was so that Sasha (the youngest daughter), could stay and graduate from high school.  At the time she was a sophomore at a private high school named Sidwell Friends, where her older sister Malia graduated in 2016.  As President Obama explained, “We’re going to have to stay a couple of years in D.C. probably so Sasha can finish.  Transferring someone in the middle of high school?  Tough.”

So after living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for eight years, what kind of home did the Obama family move into?  On today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped by to see their current home, located at 2446 Belmont Road (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Kalorama neighborhood, to find out.

While not as impressive as the White House, the Obama family’s current home is newer than it.  The White House has been the residence of every U.S. President since John Adams in 1800.  The Obamas’ Belmont Road house was built 128 years later, in 1928.  The White House has 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms and 6 levels in the residence, while the Obamas’ current house has 13 rooms, eight and a half bathrooms, and three levels.  The Obama family’s previous residence has 35 fireplaces, while their current home has only one.  The White House has formal gardens, vegetable gardens and a rose garden.  Their new home has only a formal garden.  Lastly, the White House is approximately 55,000 square feet and sits on 784,080 square feet of fenced in land, while the Belmont Road house is 6,441 square feet and sits on fenced in lot that measures 11,915 square feet.

The White House also has a bowling alley, a swimming pool, a tennis court, a movie theater, three elevators, butlers and personal assistants, groundskeepers, and five full-time chefs.  The Obamas do not yet have a pool but recently were approved for a permit to build one.  And the Belmont Road house has a lower level au-pair suite for Barack’s mother-in-law.

Although not for sale, the White House is worth $397.9 million.  The Belmont Road house was listed for $5,750,000 in 2008, and then listed and relisted twice in 2012 for $7,995,000.  Having not found a buyer, it was subsequently listed again in 2014 for $5,750,000.  It sold in may of that year for $5,295,000 to former Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart and his wife, Giovanna Gray Lockhart.  An Obama family corporation, Homefront Holdings, LLC., then purchased the home from them in 2017 for $8.1 million, which is more than quadruple the price of comparable real estate listings in the area, where the median price is $1,995,000.

Despite the fact that last year’s move from their home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was a substantial step down for Barack, Michelle, and Sasha, their current home is much larger and more valuable than the home they still own at 5046 South Greenwood Avenue in south side Chicago’s Kenwood neighborhood, where they lived prior to the White House, and still stay on some visits back home to Chicago.

The Obamas will most likely remain in their current home in the nation’s capital until at least the summer of 2019, after Sasha graduates.  After that, they may continue to reside here, they may return to Chicago, or they may end up somewhere else.

 

NOTE:  Unlike all of the other photos on this blog, I did not take the above photos of the Obama family’s current home.  Those photos were taken from the real estate listing at the time they bought the home.   Because the Secret Service, which guards the former president’s homes here in D.C. and in Chicago have restricted access to the roads on which they are located, the following photos were the only ones I was able to take of what I could see on my bike ride.  They show uniformed Secret Service officers at blockades at either end of the road, and one of the black SUVs I saw while I was riding around the neighborhood in which sat plain clothes Secret Service agents.

 

 [Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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The District Boundary Stones

As I often say, there is history all around you if you just know how to look for it.  And that is particularly true in the D.C. area.  On this bike ride back to the Jones Point Lighthouse (MAP), I came across a brass-lined window in the floor of the lighthouse’s front porch.  Looking through the murky glass I saw a worn and weathered stone marker which was partially underground near the shore of the Potomac River.  It looked like it could be a grave’s headstone.  But the shoreline seemed like an odd place to bury someone.  So I decided to look into it.  And when I did I learned some more local history that dates back well over 200 years.

What I came across was what some people refer to as one of our country’s first Federal monuments — a District Boundary Stone.  In 1791, at the behest of President George Washington, 40 boundary stones were set in place to designate the original physical boundary of the nation’s new capital city.

Of course the city’s boundary has since changed.  Land from both Virginia and Maryland was ceded in 1790 to form the District of Columbia.  But in 1846, the area of which was ceded by Virginia was returned, leaving the territory originally ceded by Maryland as the current area of the District in its entirety.  But amazingly, 36 out of the original 40 stones still exist today, although some are now in Virginia.  The other four stones are replicas, such as NE1 which was demolished by a bulldozer  or SW6, which was smashed by a car.

Some of the stones are well cared for, such as the original West Boundary Stone, which now sits in Benjamin Banneker Park in Falls Church, Virginia (not to be confused with the Benjamin Banneker Park in D.C.), and is surrounded by a five-foot fence installed by the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Others are not as fortunate, such as NE3, which sits at New Hampshire Avenue, Eastern Avenue and Chillum Road in northeast D.C., surrounded by trash at the edge of a McDonald’s parking lot.  The stone known as S1, the one at Jones Point, is in relatively good shape.

So, the Boundary Stones are federal monuments.  However, they are not treated like any other federal monuments.  For the District, the stones are ostensibly owned by the District Department of Transportation, but the ground they sit on is owned by the National Park Service.  Of the stones located on the land that was retroceded to Virginia, many of the stones sit in people’s yards, and the private citizens own the land on which they sit.  Others are in municipal parks or cemeteries.  But regardless of who owns the land on which they are located, the stones remain Federal property.  And the fencing that surround some of them are owned and maintained by volunteer organizations.

Eventually, I would like to see and photograph all of the Boundary Stones.  And a good way to do this would be participating in the next Boundary Stone Bike Ride, an annual event sponsored by the Boundary Stone Public House in the northeast D.C.’s Bloomingdale neighborhood.  Participants can ride one, two, three or all four sides of the original D.C. perimeter, which is about 60 miles altogether.  Last year’s ride, the fifth annual, was held on October 14th.  I think I’ll keep an eye on the bar’s web site for an announcement about this year’s ride. 

Enlarge this map and then zoom in for the most effective view.

Photo Gallery of this Year’s Cherry Blossoms

The  much anticipated peak bloom for this year of the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin has officially arrived.  The National Park Service originally predicted at a press conference on March 1, that D.C.’s iconic cherry blossoms would reach their peak bloom for 2018 between March 17th and 20th.  But after an unusually warm February, March was much cooler than normal.  In fact, March actually ended up being colder than February.  So although the cherry blossoms got off to an early start, their progress slowed considerably in the subsequent cooler temperatures.  So on March 12, the Park Service revised the prediction to between March 27th and 31st.  Then on March 23, they pushed it back again to between April 8th and the 12th.  Judging that 70 percent of the buds had reached the “puffy white” stage, the final development stage before peak bloom, on April 1st, the Park Service once again adjusted their prediction, and on April 3rd they moved it up to between April 5th and 8th.  And they were correct.  The blossoms are now in peak bloom.  But they will only be that way for a few more days.  And if the weather forecast of snow for Saturday is correct, they will be gone after tomorrow.  So hurry and get to D.C. if you want to see this natural spectacle.  But if you can’t, enjoy these photos that I took earlier this afternoon.

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Note:  Here are some links to past years’ posts about D.C.’s cherry blossoms:
•  The Indicator Tree (2018)
•  This Year’s Cherry Blossoms Watch (2107)
•  The Amur Cork Tree (2017)
•  The Japanese Pagoda at the Tidal Basin (2017)
•  Sunrise with the Cherry Blossoms (2016)
•  The Peaking of the Cherry Blossoms (2016)
•  The Annual Cherry Blossoms (2015)
•  The Cherry Blossoms Around The Tidal Basin (2014)
•  The Cherry Trees Collection at the National Arboretum (2014)

A Secret Entrance to the White House

Anyone who has been near the White House when the president or visiting dignitaries were arriving or departing have seen the entrances to the White House in use.  Equipped with security gates, ram-proof physical barriers, armed personnel, electronic surveillance equipment, and other unseen security measures, the entrances are obvious.  But there is another entrance to the White House that few people know about.

Located two blocks away from the White House in the 1500 block of H Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood, the secret entrance to the White House looks like almost any other alley in the city.  Thousands and thousands of pedestrians and vehicles pass by it every day, and I doubt any of them know what is hiding in plain site right in front of them.   About the only thing that distinguishes it from any other alley is a small, unobtrusive booth built into the wall of the building on the right side of alley.  I imagine most people who see it assume the booth is for an attendant collecting money for a public parking lot at the other end of the alley.  But it is actually a bullet-proof enclosure manned by Secret Service agents.

The alley leads south past the back of the Federal Claims Courthouse Building, before ending in an unassuming doorway at the rear of Freedman’s Bank, formerly known as the Treasury Department annex, on Pennsylvania Avenue.   From there, according to archival newspaper reports from before security concerns prevented the publishing of such information, the passageway to the White House passes through two subterranean tunnels.

The first tunnel was constructed in 1919 when the Treasury Department Annex was built, presumably to protect the Treasury and its employees from being robbed of the vast sums of cash with which they worked.  The second tunnel was contracted for President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, and lead from the East Wing of the White House to the first Presidential bomb shelter.  The tunnel and bomb shelter were to be a secret throughout the war, but was disclosed to the public in December of 1941 when Congressman Clare E. Hoffman complained about its expense in an open debate in the House of Representatives.

In later years, the tunnel has been used by persons who needed to exit or depart the White House without public or press attention. President Richard Nixon’s daughter, Tricia Nixon, and her husband, Edward F. Cox, departed the White House via the tunnel after their 1972 Rose Garden wedding.  President Lyndon Johnson also used the tunnel to avoid Vietnam War protesters when departing the White House.  Other uses of the tunnel have either been discredited or, like the stories of Marilyn Monroe using a tunnel to sneak into the White House as part of an affair with President John F. Kennedy, remain unproven.

Once the alley and tunnels were connected to provide for vehicular access to the White House, the passageway was modified to end in the parking garage in the White House basement.  And despite the general public’s lack of knowledge of the access way, or perhaps because of it, it remains in use to this day.