History & Culture

Number One Observatory Circle – a Lesser-Known Home with a Heart

Number One Observatory Circle

Attention is regularly centered on the historic White House in Washington D.C., the famous home of the incumbent president. Not only does America’s First Family live there, the attractive Pennsylvania Avenue residence, also called ‘The People’s House,’ hosts important political events all year long. Lesser talked about is Number One Observatory Circle, the official residence of the vice president of the United States. Let’s take a sneak peek at the famed residence, originally built in 1893 for the observatory superintendent.

The Queen Anne-style mansion recently underwent renovations in preparation for Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, second gentleman Douglas Emhoff. During the reno, the couple temporarily lived at guest quarters at Blair House, known as the president’s guest house. Harris and her husband are the eighth VP family to reside there, following the Pence family. News outlets have shared that Harris has incorporated her own personal style into the home, including adding elements of her Black and South Asian cultural heritage.

Since Walter Mondale, the vice presidents and their families have lived on the United States Naval Observatory grounds. Per WhiteHouse.gov, the nineteenth-century house was “so lovely” that in 1923, the chief of naval operations kicked out the superintendent so that he could move there. In 1974, Congress agreed to refurbish the house at the Naval Observatory as a home for the acting VP. Gerald Ford acceded to the Presidency before he could use the home, but his VP Nelson Rockefeller used it for entertaining. Under President Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale was the first to move into the home, followed by Bush, Quayle, Gore, Cheney, Biden, and Pence. It remains a special place to intimately host important political figures and great dignitaries. In addition, the Naval Observatory continues to operate there for navigational purposes.

The 33-room Victorian-style property was the vision of architect Leon E. Dessez, who was instrumental in creating plans for the Washington Monument prior to his 1918 death. The home cost approximately $20,000 to build per author and political consultant Charles Denyer. The three-story mansion sits on a secluded hilltop, hidden from public view. Unlike the White House, it does not offer public access. Insider.com states, “Though just over 2.5 miles north of the White House, Number One Observatory Circle feels worlds away.”

The ground floor is said to feature a reception hall, living room, sitting room, dining room, garden room, lounges, pantry, kitchen, and veranda. The second floor, per Insider.com, consists of a master suite, another bedroom, a study, and a den. The third floor was previously for servants of the home but now houses four bedrooms for family members. The main kitchen is in the basement. Other VPs have made additions to the home, including George H.W. Bush’s horseshoe pit and quarter-mile long jogging track and VP Quayle’s exercise room and pool. In 2010, President Biden adhered a “Joe loves Jill” sign to a tree, and it remains there today. The home’s popular exterior features include a wraparound porch, classic columns and turrets, expansive lawns and gardens, fountains, a gazebo, and more. The amazing residence is set on 12-acres, of which 72 belong to the observatory, and remains a welcoming home for new VPs.


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M. Craig Weaver
1 year ago

“The amazing residence is set on 12-acres, of which 72 belong to the observatory…” I think this is incorrect.

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