Saturday, May 14, 2016
My Tour of the West Wing By Nicholas Isaacs
My Tour of the West Wing
By Nicholas Isaacs
Over my spring vacation, I was very lucky to get a tour of the White House. Last year I sent a picture of Abraham Lincoln to President Obama and because of that was invited to the White House Easter Egg Roll which I attended with my parents. The next day, we were supposed to get a public tour of the East Wing of the White House last but due to complications, all of the tours scheduled for that day were cancelled. But the wait was worth it, as this year we were invited back for a private West Wing tour.
The White House is divided into 3 sections: the Executive Residence in the center; the East Wing which houses additional office space; and the West Wing which is where the President’s Office, the Oval Office, is located along with several other well known and important rooms and spaces.
In order to get in, there was a month long background check on my parents before we were even given the OK. Once there, armed Secret Service guards at various checkpoints verified our ID’s, gave us special clearance badges, as well as instructions including where we could and could not take pictures. Our guide was named Sonja, who was from the Executive Office of the President (EOP).
The President was in London when we went to the White House, but when he is working there, a U.S. Marine is usually standing guard in front of the entrance, but even still, there was still plenty of security everywhere you looked. We entered through the entrance way used by dignitaries and members of Staff, not usually used by the public. When we walked in, we noticed that the ceilings were pretty low. They had a lot of pictures hanging on the walls of different events that had happened, including the Canadian Prime Minister’s recent visit to the White House. The pictures are changed very often.
We stopped by the Situation Room but weren’t allowed to look in it. The Situation Room (also known as the John F. Kennedy Conference Room) is where the President meets with cabinet members and heads of military to oversee and make critical decisions on events unfolding live on monitors via satellite. There are advanced communication equipment so that the President has the ability to maintain and control US military all over the world. Posted outside the room there is a now famous picture of President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice-President Joe Biden, and military leaders watching the Seal-6 incursion on Osama bin Laden’s Compound from the Situation Room.
The next area we saw on our tour was the office of Vice-President Joe Biden. The hallway was blocked off to visitors but we could see the office door saying ‘Vice-President’. This is not his main office, his main office is located in Dwight D. Eisenhower Office Building next door.
We were next shown the West Wing cafeteria. The surrounding hallways and this room were designed by the Navy, and had the feeling of being aboard a ship. The halls were narrow and the artwork and other decorations were definitely sea themed. There was even a takeout window for government employees on the go.
Next, we visited the famous Rose Garden. The Rose Garden is where the President holds press conferences. The garden used to be a formal garden filled with different types of flowers, but it was soon converted to lawn surrounded by shrubs and flowers so that the President would have room to hold his conferences. Today’s Rose Garden is consistent with how the Kennedy’s designed it in the 1960’s. In the distance from where we were standing, we could see the small playground President Obama installed for his two daughters after he took office so he could see them play while he worked in the Oval Office.
Back inside, we passed by the Roosevelt Room, which is a conference room standing where President Theodore Roosevelt’s Office once stood and was named after him in 1969 by President Richard M. Nixon for both Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt. We also passed by the Cabinet Meeting Room which is where the President and members of his cabinet sit and discuss things such as the big problems in the U.S.. This room was also made by President Nixon in 1970. There is a tradition that a President will add a portrait of someone who are an inspiration to them. Early in 2009, Barack Obama added a portrait of President Harry S. Truman which joined many other portraits including ones of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt.
After that, we got to look at the Oval Office, the office of the President. We actually learned that the couches in the office were actually from Obama’s last home in Chicago, Illinois, and he put the couches in the office because he wanted to feel comfortable and make sure other people feel comfortable. The Secret Service agent there actually told us that something about the Seal of the President on the ceiling of the office was wrong. My mother actually guessed it right, that the stars around the seal had 8 points, instead of the usual 5. The man also said that it was an accident made by the Italian sculptor who made the design on the ceiling. We saw the Resolute Desk, which is the President’s desk. It was given to President Rutherford B. Hayes by Queen Victoria of England as a gift. The desk was actually made of wood from a shipwreck near the Arctic and there is not 1, but 2 other desks, which are copies of it from the same shipwreck, which are kept in England.
The final room in the White House we got to see was the Press Room where they hold briefings to the press and the reporters ask questions ranging from national issues, to foreign affairs. The room used to be a swimming pool until President Richard M. Nixon filled it with concrete and turned it into the press room. The room is now named after James S. Brady who was the Press Secretary under President Ronald Reagan who was shot and critically injured during the Ronald Reagan assassination attempt. Each chair had a label to identify where members of each news organization sits. It is probably the second best known room in the West Wing as everyone has seen a version of it in movies like “Independence Day” and “Air Force One” and in TV shows like “The West Wing” and “House of Cards.” The seemed so much in person than on TV, which makes it all the more impressive when you think about the reporters from television, newspapers, magazines, radio, and now the internet, and all the equipment that have to fit in it.
Overall, it was a magnificent experience that my family and I will never forget. If you are interested in visiting the White House, you need to contact your member of Congress at least three months in advance. Visit www.whitehouse.gov for more information.