The White House is undoubtedly America’s most famous residence. It is also one of the biggest residences in the entire country. This massive complex houses six stories with 132 rooms, 412 doors, 35 bathrooms, and 28 fireplaces. Some of the most famous rooms in the White House include the Situation Room, the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, the Cabinet Room, and the Oval Office.
But let’s take a look at the less-mentioned rooms in the White House today. Let’s talk about its bathrooms! Over the years, I have come across many stories from White House visitors about their experience of going to a bathroom in the White House. I wondered why it was such a fascinating thing. Fancy? Yes. But how can a bathroom be so fascinating that people are going gaga about it? And so, I started researching about the bathrooms.
Talk about having a lot of spare time? That’s the level of free time I had while researching the bathrooms. But I did come up with some interesting stories.
A brief history of the White House
Before going into the details of the bathroom in the White House, let me tell you a few things about this building itself. It was first identified for construction by George Washington in 1791. James Hoban, an Irish architect, designed this building. John Adams was the first President to reside in the White House.
The British, however, set the building on fire in 1814. The house went through mass-scale renovations. It was during this time that the building was expanded. It now has 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms spread across six levels.
While researching the history of the bathrooms, I came across a few interesting trivia. President John Adams, during his tenure, had implemented a unique style of plumbing in all the bathrooms. This was the time when there was an iron garden pump with nine sprout holes attached to the Treasury building’s well.
The pump helped in channeling water to the ground floor of the White House. Although this was a popular plumbing system that sent water to all the bathrooms, it went through a change when Andrew Jackson became the President.
He implemented a piped water system during his tenure. Apart from this new type of plumbing system, he also developed a bathing room in the West Wing. Bathing, as it seems to me, was something that most of the Presidents focused on when in their bathrooms. Even Franklin Pierce, during his presidency, developed a bathroom with permanent bathing facilities on the second floor.
This was a one-of-a-kind bathroom that provided both hot and cold water. Before this, the Presidents had to order kettles of hot water from the East Wing’s bathroom. In fact, they also had to use portable bathtubs because there was nothing permanent in there. I sometimes wonder how the staff would have felt like emptying the lather water from the bathtub every time the President took a bath.
Previously, there was not a single gender-neutral bathroom in the White House. No one cared for transgenders who toured this historic building. It was President Obama’s idea to start gender-neutral bathrooms. He unveiled the first gender-neutral bathroom in 2015.
This move was to support the LGBT population, signifying their inclusiveness in society. Since the bathroom was in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, it helped the White House staff to choose their option of restroom according to the gender they identified themselves with.
This was a revolutionary move in the wake of the LGBT protests. It showed that President Obama cared for everyone, irrespective of gender and color. But once he left office, there were rumors that Donald Trump, his successor, may not want to keep the bathroom anymore. But his administration has assured that they will keep the bathroom as long as they are in power.
Significance of the gender-neutral bathroom
Supporters of the LGBT community lauded President Obama for including a gender-neutral bathroom in the White House. Most educational institutions and workplaces had already started installing gender-neutral bathrooms, and it was high time that the then President did something to support this movement. The supporters of LGBT rights welcomed this move as it represented the full participation of this community in society.
Now that you know various trivia of a bathroom in the White House, let me tell you a few funny stories from the White House staff about their experiences in these bathrooms. A young man describes his first-time experience of going to a bathroom in the White House as a strong feeling that people have when they want to try a pizza place in the neighborhood. It’s as if you can’t wait to see what’s inside.
This guy’s favorite restroom was on the ground floor next to the ceremonial library. He feels as if he has entered a palace and not a bathroom. The white marble floors literally radiated as the lights went on. Luxury almost screamed from every corner of the bathroom, asking him to view every nook and corner. The walls, floors, and decorations seemed so big to him that he had performance anxiety on his first day. All he did was wash his hands and come back.
He later specifies how detailed all the bathrooms were in the White House. The one on the West Wing had a unique charm. The tiles and artistic decorations make you feel as if you have come to a painting exhibition. The Roosevelt Room, on the other hand, located just a few footsteps away from the Oval Room, portrayed proximity to power. The lighting, together with the decoration style, seemed magnanimous. This was the least favorite bathroom of that guy.
The bathroom across Valerie Jarrett’s office, however, was full of retro quirkiness. From funny proverbs to quotations on life, this bathroom was a mixed bag of sorts. The urinals in this bathroom are huge and resemble the washbasins. He even describes them as bathtubs sawed in half. The strangest thing about these urinals is they have bulky foot pedals approximately 12 inches from the floor. You need to press these pedals to flush the urinal.
The bathroom close to Jon Favreau’s office is the only one that has a shoe-polishing machine. This machine also looks different from the shoe-polishing machines you usually see. It seems as if someone has attached two Muppet scalps to opposite ends of a stick. All you need to do is put your feet inside the scalps and hit the polish trigger. The machine will do the rest.
This staff member also had a hilarious experience in one of the bathrooms here. He considered the Secret Service people as superheroes. One day, he had to pee next to one of these heroes. But he didn’t have the courage to speak to him. In fact, he had performance anxiety again, and so he went inside a stall. And, just as he was about to close the latch, he turned around and saw a fillet of grilled salmon sitting in the toilet bowl. Someone had taken a bite and left the rest there.
According to him, this wasn’t the most historic or profound thing that he witnessed during his tenure at the White House. But it was undoubtedly the most remarkable thing in his career. Even I sat and wondered for a while, how on earth could someone leave a grilled salmon on the toilet bowl. And that too at the White House! Come to think of it, thousands of people may have met President Obama, but how many had found a salmon in the White House’s bathroom? This guy is very lucky but in a strange way.
Upon thinking about this incident further, I had more questions in mind. For example, what would have happened if the guy flushed the toilet? Or, why were there no other side dishes? What was the person who left the grilled salmon thinking when he left it on the toilet bowl? Is the food in the White House so pathetic that people need to dump it in places they feel no one will see?
Well, I’m not anyone to judge. But it also brings up many serious questions as per what the staff described. With the National Security Council just three levels above, was it an inside job to leave the salmon there? Was it some sort of signal that would bring the White House down within a few minutes? Was the guy in the bulletproof jacket who was peeing next to him a secret agent planning to kill the President?
Fortunately, nothing had happened to anyone. It was just a case of a curious salmon happening to be in the wrong bowl. But what intrigues me the most is that a place like the White House could have such a hilarious story after all. This shows that not even the finest places in the US are perfect. The next time you take a tour to the White House, ask the guide if he knows the salmon story or not.