Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pimp My White House

I often wonder why I'm so obsessed with Presidential trivia. I suspect it's partly about all the cool stuff you get to do when you're President. And no, I don't even mean all the leader-of-the-free-world business. I mean getting to live in that gigantic, awesome house with that giant awesome office (and hey, the commute couldn't be any better!). Not that I would ever want to be President - the way I see it, the White House is a very necessary perk to keep people interested in what is indubitably one of the hardest jobs anybody could ever have.

Various presidents over the years have lent their own recreational touches to the White House's already glamorous facilities. Here are a few of the more pimpin' ones.

John Quincy Adams's Billiard Table - As a youngster, JQA spent some time in France while Dad negotiated the Treaty of Paris. It was likely there that he developed a passion for billiards. Shortly after becoming president, he had a table built so he could play at home to unwind.

At the time, though, popular sentiment about billiards generally ran to the "trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for pool" school of thought. In fact, when JQA was up for re-election, Andrew Jackson's people derided Adams for enjoying such an ungentlemanly and altogether ...French pastime.

Calvin Coolidge's Mechanical Horse - Originally a gag gift of sorts, Coolidge kept this bizarre little apparatus in a dressing room next to his bedroom. He only tried it out once someone basically dared him to, and he found that he actually loved it and couldn't get enough. To the amusement of Mrs. Coolidge and various White House visitors, he rode the mechanical horse frequently throughout his presidency, always while wearing his hat, but not always while wearing clothes. (Yeah, not that Silent Cal was an unattractive man, but the visual of him riding the mechanical horse in his underwear is not one my mind needed to conjure. Thanks, Internet.)

The mechanical horse didn't remain at the White House after Coolidge's presidency. He couldn't part with it. So it went home with him when he moved out, and it can now be viewed in his museum in Northampton, Massachusetts. Its descendants can be found in country-western bars throughout the nation.

Harry Truman's Bowling Alley - The first bowling alleys in the White House were built as a birthday gift for President Truman in 1947. Turns out Harry would probably rather have had a new bike or a Red Ryder BB gun - neither he nor Bess were very into bowling. (I know the President, being the quintessential "man who has everything," is probably kind of hard to buy for, but really? Nobody bothered to ask him what he wanted?) He let his staff use it, though. In 1955 the bowling alley was moved into the basement to make room for some copy machines.

Though Truman had little use for it, the White House bowling alley was finally fully appreciated four presidents later, when avid bowlers Richard and Pat Nixon moved into the White House. President Nixon had the bowling alley rebuilt and outfitted with state-of-the-art technology, and used it often.

Dwight Eisenhower's Movie Theater - Well, okay, the movie theater was actually first built during the FDR administration, and screenings had occasionally been held at the White House practically since the dawn of motion pictures. But Ike was the one who really made the theater the pimptastic hanging-out spot it is today. He's the one who installed four enormous cushy armchairs in the first row - all the better to kick back while he watched the westerns he adored.

Subsequent presidents have also made frequent use of the theater - Jimmy Carter hosted frequent regular screenings, as did Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who is reported to be a particular fan of the Austin Powers movies. (That explains so much.) Not so much of a movie buff was Lyndon Johnson, who mostly just liked to watch a 10-minute documentary about himself.

But there was something else LBJ couldn't get enough of...

Lyndon B. Johnson's Fresca Tap - Shortly after he became President, LBJ gave up drinking alcohol, and replaced it with another vice - the refreshing citrus sparkle of Fresca. Which I totally understand, as it's very delicious.

Adjacent to the Oval Office is a small private lounge where the President can go to take a break, catch a quick nap, or even just hide to freak out the Secret Service guys. Originally designed for the Eisenhower administration, it's outfitted with a couple of comfy chairs, some TVs, and direct phones to all the most important aides. LBJ liked it for more informal, one-on-one meetings, and to make it feel more like home, he had a "Fresca" button installed right next to the "Coffee" button, so he could get a glass of his favorite soda whenever he wanted.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone. See you tomorrow for the obligatory links roundup. Until then, crack open a Fresca and think of LBJ.

1 comment:

Robert Lamb said...

This guy on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" could have won a million if he knew LBJ loved Fresca!