7 Fun Things to Do at the White House (When You’re Not Busy Leading the Free World)

  • Published on January 12th, 2009

white house

Abraham Lincoln was a self-described billiards addict. John Adams swam almost daily in the nearby waters of the often chilly Potomac River. Gerald Ford made use of the White House facilities as if they were at his own private country club wedged in a corner at the intersection of Pennsylvania and Executive avenues in Washington, D.C.

Whether entertaining high-powered guests or for personal enjoyment, American presidents and their families have a long tradition of recreating on the grounds of the White House. When the ability to find simple seclusion in the outside world is nearly impossible, these seven White House facilities can offer respite from the high-pressure job.

1. Basketball

white house basketball court

It is no secret that Barack Obama is a huge basketball enthusiast. From his high school days in Hawaii when he earned the nickname “Barry the Bomber”, right up until the day he gave his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Mr. Obama has played basketball as a way to keep fit, focused and healthy. With an incoming cabinet basketball team said to be the best ever and with Obama’s proclivity for shooting the rock around, the single-basket outdoor court may not be enough.

Installed by George H.W. Bush in 1991, the 26′ by 26′ court sits near the swimming pool and just off the Oval Office. But when Mr. Obama hinted throughout the campaign that he’d like to upgrade from the driveway-sized basketball court to a full-sized indoor court by replacing the existing bowling alley, bowling industry groups raised vocal opposition.

2. Bowling

richard nixon in the white house bowling alley

As opposed to his skills on the basketball court, Mr. Obama’s skills in the bowling alley are, let’s say, not as sharp. Obama displayed his proficiency as a bowler in the Spring of 2008 whilst campaigning in Altoona, PA, when he bowled a less-than-stellar score of 37. But whether Obama will actually make good on his promise to replace the White House bowling alley, remains to be seen. After news broke that Obama was considering gutting the bowling lane and building a basketball court, a coalition of bowling groups offered to redesign the White House lane(s) with a decidedly twenty-first century feel:

proposed white house bowling alley

The first White House bowling alley was actually built as a gift for President Harry Truman in 1947 in the location of what is now the Situation Room. Though not much of a bowler himself, the Truman bowling alley was well used by guests and staff until it was relocated across the street to the Executive Building. In 1969, President Richard M. Nixon brought bowling back to the White House with a single lane in a basement area below a driveway that exists today.

3. Swimming

white house swimming pool

white house swimming pool solar hot water heater

Nestled in the trees not far from the basketball court and the West Wing is the White House swimming pool, installed in 1975 by Californian and avid swimmer Gerald Ford. Outfitted with a cabana, a solar hot water system for the pool and a spa that was later added by President Bill Clinton, the pool area is the perfect place to entertain guests, let alone Malia and Sasha.

The original White House swimming pool was built by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. Roosevelt, who suffered from polio, used the indoor West Wing swimming pool as therapy to strengthen his upper body. The Roosevelt pool was ultimately filled in by Nixon who used the space as an area for press to gather.

About the Author

is the founder of ecopolitology and the executive editor at LiveOAK Media, a media network about the politics of energy and the environment, green business, cleantech, and green living. When not reading, writing, thinking or talking about environmental politics with anyone who will listen, Tim spends his time skiing in Colorado's high country, hiking with his dog, and getting dirty in his vegetable garden.