President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden are settling into their new home at the White House. Vice President Kamala Harris, however, had to delay her move to Number One Observatory Circle, the traditional residence for veeps on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory.
Reports emerged this week that Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff are staying at Blair House temporarily while the 19th century vice president’s residence undergoes repairs. Once the maintenance is completed, they will be the eighth vice presidential family to live at the historic mansion.
This tradition dates back to 1977, when President Jimmy Carter’s vice president, Walter Mondale, moved into Number One Observatory Circle ― also known as the Superintendent’s House, the Admiral’s House, or VPR (vice president’s residence).
Since Mondale’s tenure, the vice presidential mansion has housed George HW Bush, Dan Quayle, Al Gore, Dick Cheney, Biden and Mike Pence.
Constructed in 1893, Number One Observatory Circle boasts three floors, six bedrooms, a wraparound porch, sun room, and, according to rumours, an underground bunker. Architect Leon E. Dessez designed the Queen Anne-style house, which reportedly cost around $20,000 to build. It was built with a dark red brick but was later painted white in the 1960s, after Victorian-style architecture fell out of fashion.
The vice presidential residence does not offer public tours, but the interiors have been photographed over the years for various publications and during events, like visits from foreign dignitaries.
Number One Observatory Circle is located on the 72-acre grounds of the US Naval Observatory in Northwest Washington, DC The property is about 2 1/2 miles from the vice president’s offices at the White House and Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
The USNO is one of the oldest scientific agencies and focuses on providing astronomy-related information to the U.S. Navy and Department of Defense. In addition to scientists and leaders, the Naval Observatory has supposedly been visited by supernatural beings. One night at Number One Observatory Circle, Mondale’s teenage daughter Eleanor claimed she fainted out of fear after seeing a ghost.
“Upon coming to, I phoned the Secret Service Command Post,” she recalled in a 1998 article in Swing magazine. “I whispered that there was a man in my room and hung up. Minutes later, two agents busted into the room, guns drawn. When I told them the ‘man’ was actually a ghost, they requested that I never do that again!”
Many years later, Cheney’s granddaughter accidentally summoned the Secret Service when she mistook a panic button in the bathroom for a way to flush the toilet.
Number One Observatory Circle was constructed to house superintendents of the USNO, but according to the White House, “the house was so lovely that in 1923, the chief of naval operations kicked out the superintendent so he could move in himself.”
Before 1974, vice presidents resided in their own homes if they had property in the D.C. area, or in hotels if they didn’t. This approach presented security challenges to the Secret Service and wound up being pretty pricey.
“[T]he cost of securing these private residences grew substantially over the years,” the White House website states. “Finally, in 1974, Congress agreed to refurbish the house at the Naval Observatory as a home for the Vice President.”
No vice president lived in the home until Mondale’s arrival three years later in 1977. (Gerald Ford became president before he could move in, and his veep, Nelson Rockefeller, “only used it for entertaining.”)
The various vice presidents who’ve lived at Number One Observatory Circle made their own unique additions to the property. Bush, who served as vice president from 1981 to 1989, added a horseshoe pit and quarter-mile jogging track.
Dan Quayle opted for an exercise room and swimming pool, the latter of which rather endeared him to his successors. In 2010, then-Vice President Biden remarked that Quayle was his “favorite vice president” because of the addition of the pool, which his “granddaughters love.”
As for Biden, he and Jill created the Family Heritage Garden of the Vice President in 2012 to honor all the vice presidential family members and pets who resided at the house. He also surprised Jill on Valentine’s Day in 2010 with a plaque on a tree in the backyard, which reads “Joe Loves Jill.”
During their four years at the Naval Observatory, the Pences added a beehive and a removable “Hoosiers” logo on the concrete to honor their home state.
While it’s unclear when exactly Harris and Emhoff will move into Number One Observatory Circle, they’ll undoubtedly bring their own personal touches to the residence. Keep scrolling for more photos of the historic home over the years.