As much of it as you think you've seen via the The West Wing's walk-and-talks, there's a whole lot about the White House that would probably surprise you. So to celebrate President's Day, we dug up 11 facts about America's 132-roomed, 55,000-square-foot presidential palace they won't tell you on the tour.
1. The West Wing was only meant to be temporary.
Originally known simply as the Executive Office Building, the West Wing was built by Teddy Roosevelt to keep the residential and official business areas distinctly separate. It wasn't attached to the main house until President Taft cleared it so that he could be more involved with the day-to-day operations. And if you’ve seen photos of Taft, you'd understand why he wasn't big on having to move between buildings too frequently.
2. There is a twin White House in Ireland.
Irish architect James Hoban is thought to have based his plans for the White House on the Leinster House in Dublin, originally the home of the Duke of Leinster, and these days the seat of the Irish Parliament.
3. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, even for the First Family.
At the end of each month, the president receives a bill for his and his family’s personal food and incidental expenses including dry cleaning, toothpaste, and toiletries, which is then deducted from his $400,000 annual salary.
4. The basement is basically an underground strip mall.
Most people know about the bowling alley in the basement, which was added by pin-shark Nixon in ’69, but there are a couple other interesting spots down there. In addition to the Situation Room — where the president powwows with advisors during crises — there's a flower shop, carpenter’s shop, and a dentist’s office. You think the president has the time to step out for a filling? No sir.
5. It’s unsurprisingly hugely popular.
Each week the White House receives up to 30,000 visitors and 65,000 letters, plus nearly 3,500 phone calls, 100,000 emails, and 1,000 faxes, presumably sent from a time when people still used them.
6. True privacy is nearly impossible.
By several accounts, the Secret Service code for the president and his lady getting freaky in the residence is to say they’re “discussing the Bosnian problem." Very touch-and-go indeed.
7. Much like America itself, foreign labor was crucial to its construction.
The White House was built with the help of many, many European artists and immigrant workers including Scottish masons and Irish and Italian brick and plaster workers. On an uglier note, historic payroll records indicate many other builders were enslaved African Americans. In fact, the architect James Hoban put three of his own slaves to work on the project.
8. It wasn’t always known as The White House.
Before Theodore Roosevelt, it was known simply as the Executive Mansion.
9. It's haunted.
Of all the haunted White House anecdotes out there, this is the one that really sticks. Winston Churchill refused to ever again stay in the Lincoln Bedroom after Lincoln's ghost appeared to him beside the fireplace as he was emerging from a bath, fully nude.
10. FDR’s physical limitations forever changed the White House.
The original builders never considered the possibility of a handicapped president, so when he was elected it had to be outfitted appropriately with ramps and elevators to accommodate a wheelchair. He also added a heated indoor pool to help with his therapy.
11. Clinton’s structural additions were also somewhat obvious.
He put in a seven-seat hot tub. There's always space for two with him.