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National Perspective

The House on the Hill


While the ongoing campaign finance controversy has focused attention on sleepover guests at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., the other executive residence in the nation's capital, the vice president's house, remains something of a mystery to most Americans. Indeed, according to Vice President Al Gore's wife, Tipper, some people mistakenly believe the second family lives in a section of the White House.

Here's a look at where they really do live.


The Queen Anne-style home, which sits on a 13-acre parcel, was built in 1893, roughly five miles from the White House. It cost the federal government $20,000 and was occupied until 1974 by the Naval Observatory superintendent, the official who maintains the nation's master clock and produces almanacs for astronomers and navigators.

In its original design, the 10,000-square-foot, four-story home had 12 rooms. Today, it has about 30 rooms, including basement quarters and bathrooms for Navy stewards, who cook and clean, and Secret Service agents.

The home's original dark red brick exterior has been painted a few times; it is now cream colored. Paintings by major U.S. Impressionists are displayed in several rooms.


An official residence for the vice president was first proposed in Congress in 1909. That legislation and 17 subsequent bills failed to make it through Congress, most dying because of a reluctance to appropriate the necessary money. So vice presidents continued to provide for their own housing arrangements, with the government picking up some of the cost.

Momentum for a permanent residence began to build in the early 1970s after a survey found about $500,000 in federal funds had been spent for security at the private homes of Vice Presidents Hubert H. Humphrey, Spiro T. Agnew and Gerald R. Ford.

In 1974, President Nixon signed a bill designating an existing government-owned home as a temporary residence for the vice president. The plan was to build a new house three years later, but that idea ultimately was scotched.

In 1977, Walter F. Mondale, his wife and children became the first vice presidential family to call the mansion home.


A major remodeling occurred while Vice President Dan Quayle and his family lived there. A swimming pool, exercise room, Jacuzzi and putting green were added, and the attic was turned into children's bedrooms. A wheelchair ramp also was installed, in accordance with federal law.

Structural and mechanical renovations were undertaken in 1993, costing $1.7 million. The work included new pipes, air conditioning and a new electrical system.


1981: $168

1985: $219

1989: $258

1997: $324

Source: "The House on Observatory Hill," by GAIL S. CLEERE

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