A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Where does the Vice President of the U.S. live?

June 3, 1999

Dear Straight Dope:

Where does the Vice President live?

I know, I know, it's simple, much too mundane for the Genius that is You . . . but I can't find the answer anywhere, so I implore upon you, oh Great and Powerful Oz . . . er . . . sorry, wrong dude. Anyway, please help me get some sleep!

It may be too mundane for Cecil, but we lesser minds get into this kind of stuff.   The Vice President's official residence, so designated in 1974, is on the southeast corner of 34th St. and Massachusetts Ave. in Washington DC, just a few blocks from the National Cathedral.  It's a Victorian "Queen Anne" style country home that was built in 1893 for the Superintendent of the United States Naval Observatory.

Before 1974, vice presidents lived wherever they could find to lay their heads. According to Steven Tally, Straight Dope fan, agricultural science writer at Purdue University, and popular historian who wrote Bland Ambition: From Adams to Quayle--the Cranks, Criminals, Tax Cheats, and Golfers Who Made It to Vice President, some were rich enough to buy temporary homes in Washington DC, but others simply stayed in hotels.

Tally tells of a small fire breaking out at the Willard Hotel, which was then the residence of vice president Calvin Coolidge. The hotel was evacuated in the middle of the night, but Coolidge got tired of waiting outside and attempted to go back in. A fireman tried to stop him, but then decided to let Coolidge proceed when he identified himself as the Vice President. But before he could actually enter the hotel, the fireman stopped him again and asked, "What are you the Vice President of?" When the fireman found out he was the Vice President of the United States, he sent Coolidge outside again to wait with the rest of the huddled masses. "I thought you were the vice president of the hotel," the fireman explained. Vice Presidents never did get no respect.

"In 1974, Congress ordered the chief of the Naval Observatory to give up his government-supplied home and turn the keys over to the vice president," Tally writes.   "Although the admiral protested that the house would make a poor residence for the vice president since the roof leaked, the home lacked air conditioning, the wiring was a fire hazard, and the fireplaces didn't work (unfortunately the admiral wasn't exaggerating), Congress decided that the home was fit for vice presidential habitation."

Gerald and Betty Ford were the first vice-presidential family eligible to move into the house, but Nixon resigned before they had the opportunity. After that, Nelson Rockefeller's family was offered the house, but--being frigging billionaires--they politely declined, as their Washington DC home was bigger and nicer. So the Mondales were the first residents in 1977.

Needless to say, quite a bit of renovation has taken place. Even the Rockefellers donated some of their personal furniture, though they never lived there. George and Barbara Bush oversaw much renovation and added antiques and a horseshoe pit, and Dan Quayle added a twenty five thousand dollar putting green and a swimming pool. Walter Mondale's family planted a vegetable garden and buried their family dog on the grounds. Tally writes, "The Mondales also began a collection of books about U.S. vice presidents and placed the collection prominently in the living room. (A copy of this book will be donated to that collection.)"  I found the book very entertaining, but considering the title, I have to wonder, how prominently are they going to display this one?

Since designation Vice Presidents Mondale, Bush, Quayle and Gore have lived in the official residence with their families. I hear Al and Tipper have their eye on a bigger crib, though. The house has twelve rooms and six bathrooms. By comparison, Tally points out, the White House has 132 rooms and 20 bathrooms.

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Staff Reports are written by the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board, Cecil's online auxiliary. Though the SDSAB does its best, these columns are edited by Ed Zotti, not Cecil, so accuracywise you'd better keep your fingers crossed.

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